For O's promoters, it's new season, too

Marketing: With its stars gone, the club turns to tradition in its ads.

March 26, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Cal Ripken retired.

Brady Anderson was released.

Mike Mussina moved on a couple of years ago.

Now the Orioles are new and fresh and unknown. No superstar to be found. No name on their roster that will draw a crowd.

But tickets still have to be sold. Fans still have to be enticed to Camden Yards. So when area residents turn on their television sets, they will see Mike Hargrove with spinach in his teeth, Jay Gibbons breaking windows in the warehouse at Camden Yards, Jeff Conine looking for a little respect with a tape measure in the outfield seats.

"We've got new stars in the making," said Allan Charles of Trahan, Burden & Charles Inc., who has put together the Orioles' new ad campaign. "I think what happens is people look at it in isolated periods of time. Before Cal, there was Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson. There are different generations of players, who are all beloved.

"That's what makes the Orioles and other enduring franchises," Charles said. "Once you become a fan, you're a fan. You look around the stadium and you see all those different Orioles hats from the era where you became a fan."

John Haas is just that kind of fan. His family has owned season tickets since the Orioles arrived in 1954, when he was 13. He has renewed his season-ticket plan because, "I'm too much of a baseball purist. I'd never give up my tickets. It would be like telling me I had to go six months without food. I go for the game. I like the game."

So do a lot of other people. As of yesterday, Matt Dryer, Orioles director of sales, reported 1.97 million tickets had been sold for the coming season and 82 percent of season-ticket holders had renewed. He also said, given the average daily sale of 15,000 to 20,000 tickets, the team would reach 2 million by Opening Day. Last year, with a week to go until Opening Day, the club had sold 2.1 million, Dryer said.

Still, those ticket buyers aren't all happy.

Haas said he senses apathy among fans for the coming season and believes many have renewed because they don't want to lose their seat locations in case the Orioles improve.

"I buy 20 games in a plan with other people," said Ken Gelbard, a 61-year-old real estate broker in Baltimore. "I have a love of baseball that goes back to Brooklyn and going to Ebbets Field with my father. I thought a long time about whether I'd buy these this year.

"I don't think they're putting in an effort to put a product on the field, and the only way we have of voting what we think is to not buy tickets and not support the team's ineptitude."

Gelbard, though, bought his share because, like Haas, he loves baseball.

"But," Gelbard added, "I've hedged my bets. I've also bought a package for Cal Ripken's minor-league team in Aberdeen. So, if this type of ineptitude prevails, I can satisfy my love of baseball in Aberdeen."

Brooks, then Cal

At the Orioles FanFest earlier this year, Linda Farver said she is going to miss Ripken and his leadership, on and off the field.

"I remember Brooks' retirement," said Farver, a minister from Carroll County who now lives in Lynchburg, Va. "That was a large gap to fill, but at least you still had Cal and Eddie Murray here. Now, you don't have any of them. Ripken was the torchbearer for the team. Now, I look at the roster and I don't see a torch-bearer out there. What they've got to get is one or two guys we can hang our hats on. Get connected with.

"I've been through lean years before," she said. "If you are a diehard Orioles fan, you will not fold up the tent."

As part of their marketing campaign, the Orioles are stressing baseball's affordability relative to other major-league sports. A person can buy a 13-game season-ticket plan for as little as $154 a seat. (By contrast, the cheapest seat for a single Washington Wizards game is $35.)

In addition, the group sales department is working with schools and churches, partnering with them not only to help the Orioles sell tickets, but also to help those organizations raise money. Mount de Sales school, for example, is selling 5,000 tickets for the Orioles-Cleveland game May 8 and in the process making $25,000 for itself.

There will be more giveaway nights to try to entice walk-ups. Last year, there was one bobblehead doll night; this year, there will be three. On four nights, there will be fireworks. The goal is to reach 3 million tickets sold by the end of the season.

"We're the only team since 1994 to hit 3 million every year," Dryer said. "It's magical to us."

The Orioles and Charles began planning this year's ad campaign last season. Last September, they filmed the commercials being shown now. They wanted to show off Baltimore, wanted to show off Camden Yards. They wanted the scenes to look real, not spring training-posed with palm trees and that small-town stadium look.

And one of the reasons they were able to do it was because the players - the young, unknown players - cooperated.

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