A competitor in Washington would probably pare the franchise's value by 10 or 20 percent, Zimbalist said. That could mean a paper loss of $30 million to $60 million for the team's ownership group.
But that doesn't mean the Orioles would go on the economically disabled list. The Orioles would be the established team in the market competing with a transplant. Fans wouldn't simply turn in their season tickets and switch allegiance, Zimbalist said.
The fans who remain with the Orioles may also enjoy the benefit of the competition: The team would feel additional pressure to keep ticket prices down, he said.
Baseball fans from the Washington area say they would enjoy a team closer to home.
"Most definitely," said Robert Pitysingh, a George Washington University employee who lives in Gaithersburg. "It's close, and there's too much traffic going to Baltimore. When you get to the game and sit down, it's already too late."
Atalla Adileh, a Virginia resident, drives a bus to almost every home game. "These people come from Virginia. An hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half to come to games, so of course there would be some interest in a team there. They spend lots of money and take all-day trips. I'm sure they would go to games closer to home."
Tepid support in D.C.
Maybe Washington can support its third major-league baseball team, but the response to last year's two-game exhibition series between the Expos and St. Louis Cardinals leaves room to wonder. RFK Stadium played host to superstar slugger Mark McGwire and drew just 20,465 for the first game on a perfect afternoon, and 30,172 for the series finale.
"Look at that Cardinals-Expos exhibition," said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss. "They've got Mark McGwire for his first appearance in the area since breaking the home run record and they draw only 20,000? That's a market that's going to support major-league baseball?"
Still the Orioles don't dispute that a second team would interest a substantial number of fans in the Washington metropolitan area, but fear that sharing the market would reduce their ability to compete in the big-money American League East and also leave the new franchise with limited economic potential.
According to a market analysis commissioned by the club in 1996, the Orioles sell about 1 million tickets a year in areas that a competing survey by proponents of baseball in Northern Virginia identify as their prime targets. If the Orioles were to lose half of those fans, the impact would be felt on more than just gate revenue. The decrease also would affect broadcast, concession and parking income.
The Orioles' report contends that the other franchise also would be handicapped severely by the overlapping fan base.
The other study, conducted by William Collins, a businessman who has long been trying to lure a team to Northern Virginia, projected that a new team could draw up to 3.2 million a year. But that assumption depends on fans from Montgomery and Prince George's counties - areas where the Orioles draw heavily.
If the team were located in Virginia, the Collins group estimates that no more than 7 percent of its fans - or about a quarter of a million - would come from north of the capital. But that's still too many, say the Orioles.
The Orioles draw about 3.5 million a year and, as the dominant team in a split market, would figure to draw at least three million. But they might be vulnerable to the kind of intramarket attendance shifts that have vexed both the Giants and A's.
"That would be a problem for the Orioles," Angelos said. "Those that don't believe that just don't understand. The notion that there are 6 million fans in this area is ridiculous. They don't even have that in New York, where there are 15 million people."
City, state would suffer
John Moag, managing director of Legg Mason's sports consulting practice and former chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said the competition would siphon off revenue, which would hurt Maryland and Baltimore. The team's rent is calculated as a percentage of its revenue and typically falls about $1 million a year short of covering the state's cost in running the park. The situation would get worse if team revenues fell.
Also, fans coming from distant Northern Virginia and Washington probably spend the most time and money in the city. Their loss would harm businesses downtown, he said.
"In some respects, the Maryland Stadium Authority and city would get hurt more than the team," Moag said. "It is not good for the Orioles, and it is not good for the city, and it is not good for baseball."
Another problem would be supporting skyboxes and the pricey "club seats," for which fans pay annual rent. These luxury accommodations can generate as much revenue as regular tickets for some teams. "I think the market is saturated," Moag said.