Orioles eye tickets for success

Promotions spark seat sales, but fans wrestle with details

March 11, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Steven Diorio and Darlene When had some tricky math to untangle.

They had just bought two 13-Sunday packages for Orioles games this summer. Now, munching on free hot dogs inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, they had to divide the tickets between two families and three children while accounting for rotating weekend visitation schedules.

The challenge left little time to worry about how many of those games a rebuilding Baltimore squad might win.

"As far as we're concerned, they don't have to do real well," said Diorio, 40, a salesman from Linthicum.

Likewise, the Baltimore Orioles are facing tricky math.

The team will try to fill 3.9 million seats during 81 home games in 2001 without last year's top starting pitcher, most dangerous power-hitter and Opening Day left-fielder.

The solutions being tried: promotion, promotion and more promotion. The latest pitch was delivered yesterday when, for the first time, the ballpark opened its gates so potential buyers of six-, 13- and 29-game packages could pick their seats.

A few years ago, when the club was fielding playoff-caliber teams, "we didn't have to do so much of that," said team sales director Matt Dryer.

But the 2001 Orioles edition promises to be a largely faceless club built around speed and youth. "Bring the kids to see the kids," shouts the home page on the team's official Web site.

Dryer denied that yesterday's unprecedented effort had anything to do with slumping sales. About 80 percent of season-ticket holders from last year, when the team sold 2 million packaged tickets, have renewed their plans, he said. "I think people are sticking with us to see how these kids do," Dryer said.

Dryer said the outreach stemmed from research showing that only 30 percent of fans knew about the mini-packages.

Mary MacDonald, 50, a nursing union director who lives on Eastern Avenue, was one of the 1,050 fans who passed through the ballpark turnstiles yesterday. She learned about the ticket plans, she said, because "they advertised it everywhere."

"There's something contrarian in my nature that says they may be fun to watch," MacDonald said.

She and Richard Rimkunas, a congressional policy analyst, picked out a pair of upper-deck seats from among the 3,500 bright orange banners concentrated in far left and right fields and on the third level.

Things went smoothly until it was time to pay. They arrived at the end of a 70-person wind-whipped line at the B&O Warehouse ticket office, a line that didn't seem to be moving. "They still need to work on their customer service," Rimkunas said. The team later opened more windows, and the line shrank.

On a blustery day more fit for football than baseball, many fans expressed hope about a young team that has enjoyed success so far in the exhibition season. The Orioles' latest setback - the injury-induced departure of scowling slugger Albert Belle - might have provided a marketing boost.

"I heard a lot of people say the same thing: They're coming back because he's gone," said Billy Powers, 63, a cable inspector from Alexandria, Va.

Recognizing that existing season-ticket holders could become resentful if newcomers get better seats, the team made only 3,500 seats available. "We would never make the blunder of tagging seats that were better than existing seats," said Dryer, the sales director. "A lot of it is opinion."

In the opinion of Rich Nalty, 36, a United Parcel Service employee from Glenelg, shade is better than sun.

In what was likely one of the more complicated transactions of the day, Nalty purchased a third 13-Sunday plan to supplement two he already owns, then moved the seats from sunny Section 84 to shady Section 76.

He was happy with the choice, but not overwhelmed.

"It was a decent selection," Nalty said. "But nothing between first and third."

Dryer said he was pleased with yesterday's results. A total of about 11,000 tickets were sold, he said.

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