O's already near top for prices 19 percent increase for tickets ranks second in majors

March 28, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Once one of the more affordable teams in baseball, the Orioles will have the fourth-highest-priced ticket in the major leagues this season -- continuing a steep climb that has doubled the cost of being a fan since the opening of Oriole Park.

An annual review of ticket costs by Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based newsletter, shows the Orioles behind the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox.

Baltimore increased its ticket prices 19 percent for this season, to a weighted average of $15.66. That increase was second only to the St. Louis Cardinals, who raised their average ticket price by nearly 25 percent, in the 28-team major leagues. The Orioles did not increase ticket prices last year, in keeping with their recent pattern of every-other-season increases.

In the last season at Memorial Stadium, 1991, an Orioles ticket averaged $7.59, the second-lowest in the majors. Since then, Orioles tickets have risen 106 percent, compared with 34 percent for the average of all major-league tickets.

The Consumer Price Index rose 3.3 percent last year and has gone up 16.8 percent since 1991.

The team says such increases are a necessary part of business and of winning. The team, which had the second-highest payroll in baseball last year, nearly won an American League pennant. It lost the League Championship Series to the Yankees.

"We have continued to invest and reinvest in the players and our field system," said Joe Foss, Orioles vice chairman of business and finance.

He said that the team lost money last year and that its owners, led by Baltimore attorney Peter Angelos, have never paid themselves dividends or taken cash out of the team.

Stiff price increases are common among teams that move to new parks, said Sean Brenner of Team Marketing Report. New digs become attractions in their own right, driving up demand.

"The Orioles have probably never been more popular than they have been in the past five years," Brenner said.

Also, new parks invariably feature seats specifically designed for upscale patrons willing to pay for pampering, such as club seats that come with waiter service and annual membership fees.

All five of the baseball teams moving into new stadiums in the recent years now have ticket prices that are well above average.

The Orioles' "fan cost index" -- the cost for a hypothetical family of four taking in a game -- was up about 5 percent this year, to

$119.15. The Orioles' index ranks them sixth in the majors. The index includes the cost of four average-priced tickets, two small beers, four sodas, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two caps.

Despite the high prices, Orioles attendance has surged from about 2.5 million in the last few seasons at Memorial to more

than 3 million a year. The best year was 1993, when the turnstiles spun 3.6 million times. Since then, games have been lost to labor troubles, cutting into attendance.

The team has already sold more than 3 million tickets for the season that begins on Tuesday, including more than 28,000 season tickets, a team record.

Prices are up an average of 7.1 percent across the majors this season, reflecting growing confidence among owners that all is forgiven from the disastrous players strike of 1994 and 1995.

But there is a growing trend toward making cheap seats available. Nearly 17 percent of major-league tickets this season will cost $6 or less. The cheapest Orioles seats, other than the $5 standing-room-only tickets, are the $7 bleachers. The costliest are the $25-a-game club seats, which also carry an annual fee that amounts to an additional $5 a ticket.

Baseball remains, on average, the most affordable of the nation's major-league sports. The average ticket in the NBA goes for $34.08, the NHL $38.34. Last season, an average NFL ticket cost $35.74.

Ticket sales are the No. 1 source of income for most baseball teams, amounting to 40 percent or more of revenue on average.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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