Angelos defends baseball monopoly Report says Virginia team would cut into O's market

June 26, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Orioles owner Peter Angelos obviously is concerned about the possibility of a major-league team moving into Northern Virginia, so much so that he has distributed a report to fellow owners documenting the economic damage a second team in the Baltimore/Washington area would do to his franchise.

The specifics of the report have not been released, but the existence of the study -- which was reported yesterday in the Washington Post -- is another indication that the Orioles are concerned about the possibility of vastly increased competition in a finite local sports market.

The Orioles, who were left as the only major sports franchise in Baltimore after the NBA Bullets and NFL Colts left town, are involved in a turf fight with the transplanted Baltimore Ravens, who figure to draw away at least a modest amount of business from the baseball team.

The report apparently concludes that a baseball team in Virginia would erode further the club's fan base by luring away a significant number of the estimated 500,000 to 700,000 fans who come to Camden Yards each year from the Washington suburbs.

That notion is hotly disputed by ownership candidate William Collins and his Virginia Baseball Club, which worked hard to bring an expansion franchise to that area and is involved in negotiations to bring the Houston Astros into the Washington market.

"Baseball is a game of history and tradition, so let's get the history right," said Michael Scanlon, spokesman for the Collins ownership group. "The 1953 Washington Senators waived the 100-mile rule so that the St. Louis Browns could move to Baltimore. We were a baseball market before they were."

Proponents of baseball in Northern Virginia say that the affluent southern D.C. suburbs are not part of the Baltimore market, and rankle at the contention that the Orioles are a regional team that represents them.

"If we're that big a chunk of their market, why did they not make one Opening Day ticket available for sale at the Orioles store in Washington," Scanlon said.

Nevertheless, baseball owners likely will take a long look at the Angelos study, because of the possible effect the proposed Astros move might have on the concept of territorial rights. There are other cities seeking teams -- Orlando, Fla., for instance -- that also could dilute the fan base of existing clubs.

The Orioles organization has been working to adopt the Washington baseball market since the 1980s, when former owner Edward Bennett Williams, a Washington-based attorney, began to position the club as a regional franchise. Since then, the club has estimated the percentage of Orioles attendance coming from Washington and its suburbs to be as high as 20 percent.

"The Orioles are doing exceptionally well," Angelos said yesterday. "We're the premier franchise in baseball. Why does anybody want to change that? The question is, can the area support two major-league teams? And the answer is clearly no. That's an economic fact."

Angelos said the arrival of an NFL franchise is a separate issue. He helped in the effort to bring the NFL to Baltimore and does not seem concerned that the Ravens will suck revenue out of the Orioles, though club officials concede there will be some economic impact.

"I don't think the Orioles are threatened by a football team," he said. "If we put a competitive team on the field at Camden Yards year after year, we have nothing to worry about from the football team."

A baseball team -- playing in a new stadium on par with Oriole Park -- would be another story. The only metropolitan areas that successfully have housed more than one major-league team are the three largest in the nation, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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