90% renew tickets, O's say

January 05, 1995|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

They've been whacked by the Great Baseball Strike and walloped by a ticket-price increase, but are Orioles fans canceling their season tickets?

Get serious.

Despite the most off-putting off-season in memory, more than nine out of 10 season-ticket holders have renewed their tickets, and club officials predict that the rate could hit 96 percent by the end of the month. That's about the percentage of fans who continued their tickets during the first three years at Camden Yards.

Joe Foss, Orioles vice chairman for finance, said he wasn't aware how other major-league clubs are faring with their season-ticket campaigns. But he said he'd be surprised if many were equaling the Orioles' results.

"Maybe the Orioles are a unique situation in baseball," Foss said. "A wonderful ballpark. A terrific franchise committed to winning. And a principal owner dedicated to trying to find a solution to this labor dispute without the acrimony that exists toward the players in many other franchises."

Orioles principal owner Peter Angelos has been an outspoken critic of the owners' handling of the striking players. He has broken ranks with the majority repeatedly during the six-month dispute. Most recently, the Baltimore lawyer refused to endorse the owners' preliminary plans to begin the regular season with replacement players, if necessary.

That stand seemingly has helped Angelos with Orioles fans. Last month, they flooded the club's switchboard, seeking assurances that the Orioles would offer ticket refunds if the owners carried out their threat of replacement games. Foss then announced a money-back policy.

The Orioles also have the advantage of a hugely popular ballpark in Camden Yards. Since the ballpark opened three years ago, the Orioles have capped sales of season tickets at 27,500. They keep a waiting list of 13,000 customers.

"We do have the reality of 13,000 people on the waiting list," Foss said. "People who presently have season tickets don't want to lose their seats or their locations."

Fans who canceled their tickets cited a number of reasons, Foss said. Higher ticket prices was one. The Orioles raised prices on more than 85 percent of their tickets for next season, including a $5 increase for the best lower box seats.

"Certainly, there were people who said, 'I've had it with baseball. Given the labor situation, I'm not coming back.' Then there were those who were unable or unwilling to pay for the increased costs of coming to the ballpark. Those were the two principal reasons," Foss said.

The Orioles official said the club has been lenient with fans who wanted to hold their seats but needed more time to pay. In some cases, those fans have been given extensions until later this month, he said.

About 500 of those on the waiting list probably will move up, getting a chance to buy season tickets. Another 100, Foss predicted, will be given the opportunity to upgrade their seat locations.

The Orioles begin public sale of individual-game tickets at their annual Winter Carnival on Jan. 21.

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