Orioles go deep again, raise ticket prices 15 percent Second straight year for double-digit increases by team

December 30, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

The cost of attending an Orioles game will go up more than 15 percent next year, the second year in a row of double-digit price increases for Baltimore baseball fans.

A price list the team released yesterday shows every seat in the house rising by at least $2 a game, and some by $5. The cheapest seat, in the bleachers, will cost $9; the costliest, the "club seats," will go for $35.

An average ticket will be more than $18.

The team blamed the consecutive-year price increases -- among the steepest in baseball -- on the high costs of doing business, from player salaries to maintaining a network of farm teams.

"The fans we've heard from loud and clear were telling us to bring back Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson and Mike Mussina and field a championship-quality team. The cost of doing that in today's world has gone up," said Joe Foss, Orioles vice chairman of business and finance.

At least one longtime fan said Orioles tickets were already too expensive.

"I definitely will go to fewer games. I think it's just getting too expensive. If you have a family, you're spending $200 to go to a game," said Jeff Manno, a Dundalk resident who manages an oil terminal in Baltimore.

Besides tickets, there is the high cost of food and drinks to break the family budget, he said. "Even when I get free tickets, I spend too much money down there," Manno said.

The Orioles' recent price increases have been aggressive compared with the rest of the majors, where average annual ticket increases throughout the 1990s have been about 7 percent.

Last year, the Orioles raised their ticket prices 19 percent, to an average $15.63 -- more than twice what the team charged in its first season at Camden Yards, 1992. In 1998, the weighted average will be $18.02, not including the pricey club seats, which require an annual fee on top of the ticket cost.

Sean Brenner, editor of Team Marketing Report, a sports-industry newsletter that tracks ticket prices, said the most popular teams generally raise their prices the most -- and fans pay up.

"The Orioles are on the aggressive side. But we really haven't seen a sport where a popular team has raised its tickets too high. There may be a point out there where the fans suddenly say, 'That's too high,' but we haven't seen it yet," Brenner said.

Team Marketing Report has not yet calculated the average of next year's major-league baseball tickets, but Brenner said he expects the Orioles will again rank among the most costly. Last season, the franchise had the fourth-most-expensive average baseball ticket.

"Clearly, the Orioles are in the fortunate position to do this. They have the fan support that allows for these increases," Brenner said.

Foss said the team does not know if it will increase tickets again for the 1999 season.

The team had the second-highest player payroll in the majors last year, and plans a healthy increase for next year. The team expects to pay $64 million in player salaries next season, not including $9 million in deferred compensation that it will have to pay in future years, according to clauses in several players' contracts.

Last season, the team paid $59 million in salaries and $4 million in deferred payments.

Much of next season's price increase will be absorbed by the higher payroll. The new price structure will add an estimated $8 million to the team's revenues and should allow the team to break even financially, Foss said. The profit would be higher if the team made it to the playoffs again.

In 1997, the team reported its first profit since a group led by Peter Angelos bought the club in 1993. Foss said the team earned a profit of $9 million, thanks to a $5 million share of the entry fees paid by expansion teams in Tampa, Fla., and Phoenix and $4 million from postseason play.

The investors put the profit back into the club, Foss said.

Thanks to one of the sporting world's most lucrative, publicly financed stadiums, the Orioles are among the top three highest-revenue teams in baseball. Foss said the team is projecting about $130 million for 1998, down about $10 million from 1997 due to loss of expansion fees and an increase in the "luxury tax" it will pay other teams as part of the game's salary-containment program.

The Orioles, along with most baseball teams, do not release audited financial statements. Critics have contended that sports teams exaggerate losses and expenses.

But Foss said: "We have a romanticized view of this sport that does not take into account that this is a business. The cost of a lunch at McDonald's and a house have gone up over the past 10 years.

"A baseball ticket is still a bargain compared to hockey and football and basketball," he said.

Pub Date: 12/30/97

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