Higher prices close book on average fans

December 31, 1997|By John Eisenberg

What's the worst part about the Orioles' decision to raise ticket prices again?

They can say that they had no choice, that they had to do it, yet they don't have to open their financial books and prove their point.

Wait. Hold on. As reprehensible as that is, that's not the worst part.

The worst part is that even more longtime fans with modest budgets are going to have to stop going to the games now, replaced by members of the Cell Phone Nation. Isn't that swell?

Just what Camden Yards needs, more fans who leave in the seventh inning with the score tied.

More corporate groups out on "team building" exercises.

Fewer fans who know that Boog was a ballplayer before he was a barbecuer.

The higher prices won't result in any fewer tickets sold, of course; with interest in the Orioles at an all-time high, there will always be someone eager to buy your seat if you don't want it.

But every rise in prices pushes out that many more Average Joes, who carried baseball at the gate for years, only to get priced out of the park by the current spiral of escalating salaries, escalating ticket prices and, well, escalating everything.

It means that more and more of the game's best fans are no longer getting to hear the roar of the crowd, and that stinks.

That's an industry problem more than a local problem, of course, but let's not forget that the Orioles have been among the most aggressive price-hikers in all of baseball, more than doubling the cost of their average ticket since Camden Yards opened in 1992.

Their defense is that costs have gone crazy, that player salaries are out of control, that baseball in the '90s is nothing like it was before -- all true.

But are they raising prices because they have to do it or because they know they can get away with it?

We'll never know until they open their books.

If baseball has gotten so crazy that ticket prices are going up almost every year now, then the Orioles owe it to their customers to open their books and prove their point.

It's shameful for them to gouge their fans so regularly while offering no more than a vague defense about the price of doing business going up.

The lack of a bottom-line explanation might not have mattered as much in the old days, when prices went up maybe once every five years, but it surely matters now.

The honor system ("trust us, we have to do this") just isn't going to cut it anymore, not with prices rising so often and so high.

Let's see the Orioles start proving their point with hard numbers for a change.

Baseball owners rarely open their books, of course, and they can get away with it because clubs are private companies that don't owe explanations to stockholders.

That's where the owners want to operate -- behind closed doors, with their profits and losses not subjected to public scrutiny.

It's a lot easier to claim poverty when you don't have to prove it.

Not that Orioles owner Peter Angelos is claiming poverty; he opened his books one year shortly after buying the Orioles, and those books revealed that the club was making money.

But Angelos hasn't opened his books again since -- he has talked about doing it, and made vague pledges to do it, but the other owners have told him not to, no doubt.

In Angelos' defense, and to his credit, he does invest a lot of revenues back into the team, in the form of high-priced players who keep the Orioles in playoff contention.

It would appear that he is in this to win, not to make money, which puts him ahead of his predecessor, Eli Jacobs, who had general manager Roland Hemond on a tight budget despite high revenues.

But still, until he opens his books to independent auditors and comes clean with the fans, Angelos can expect only grumbling responses to his club's annual ticket price hikes.

What other response is there?

Joe Foss, Orioles vice chairman of business and finance, told The Sun's Jon Morgan on Monday that the team had $140 million in revenues in 1997 and paid $59 million in salaries and $4 million in deferred payments, which, for those scoring at home, means the Orioles made $77 million beyond what was needed to pay for player salaries.

And they still had to bump ticket prices as much as they did?

They still had to make the fans pay more?


The time has come for the Orioles to be held accountable for doing this.

The time has come for them to have to justify their decision to raise ticket prices.

The time has come for them to open their books.

It's the least they could do as more and more longtime fans get left at home by rising prices, while the Orioles sit like kings in a ballpark built by the taxpayers.

Pub Date: 12/31/97

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