Price check on O's tickets? Fans wait

Team establishes control of issuing tickets, causing a delay until next week


January 16, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

You haven't misplaced it. The dog hasn't eaten it. Your spouse hasn't thrown it away.

Your Orioles season-ticket invoice should arrive next week, well after the bill landed in years past.

Many fans are expecting a bill that is bigger than last season's, given the recent free-agent acquisitions. But ticket prices are still undecided, the team says, and some might be lower.

The Orioles attribute the delay to a major change in their ticket operation.

The team is bringing the process in-house, ending an arrangement with Ticketmaster and its predecessor companies to sell single-game tickets since 1985. Instead the Orioles have contracted with Irvine, Calif.-based Paciolan for support services that will enable the team to issue its own tickets.

The invoice delay has led to phone calls from many of the 12,000 season-ticket holders excited about the Orioles' free-agent signings of shortstop Miguel Tejada, catcher Javy Lopez, first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and pitcher Sidney Ponson.

"Our reps are getting bombarded with calls," said Matt Dryer, the team's senior director of advertising and promotions. While waiting for set prices, they are taking names and numbers.

Dave Crummitt of Frederick shares four season tickets, with a face value of $40 each, just beyond third base on the club level. Last season, he said, he paid about $3,500 to use the four tickets and parking pass for 20 games.

He's expecting to pay more this season, and he's not happy about it.

"Absolutely, it bothers me," said Crummitt, 41, a senior advertising account executive with Adelphia Cable. "I think [prices] are too high now.

"They want to raise prices, and by signing some marquee players, they think they have the excuse to do it."

Despite that feeling, Crummitt said he would renew. He said he wasn't sure if he would be renewing if the Orioles hadn't signed the four free agents, but that he "probably would."

The Orioles' Dryer stressed that ticket prices are still under review, and that in some of the proposals being considered some seats are priced lower than they were last season.

"Nothing is finalized," he said.

Last year, the Orioles sold just less than 2.5 million tickets, down from nearly 2.7 million in 2002. Attendance at Camden Yards has declined every year since 1997, when the Orioles drew more than 3.7 million.

With the offseason signings, Dryer is confident the Orioles will stop the slide.

"I'm not going to say 3 million is going to happen; that's a very aggressive projection," he said. "But I definitely think we're turning around. Somewhere in the 2.8 [million] range would be a reasonable goal. But if the team gets off to a good start, it doesn't take this city a whole lot to get excited, and you never know."

In moving their ticketing system in-house, the Orioles are joining nine other major league teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.

Dryer said fans buying individual game tickets online or by phone would see "convenience fees" reduced by between 50 and 75 cents a ticket, depending on the price.

Yesterday on Ticketmaster, for example, a $20 ticket to a Blast soccer game carried a $4.65 convenience fee and a $2 order processing fee. A $55 ticket to see the Washington Capitals play hockey had a convenience charge of $7.35 and a processing fee of $2.75.

Dryer said that online and telephone orders will still have a processing fee. Fans buying tickets at the Orioles' box office will continue to pay only the face value.

He said the main reason for bringing the Orioles' ticketing system in-house was to offer "one-stop shopping" to fans.

"It really was frustrating to be able to do everything for your fan except be able to sell them individual tickets and tell them they had to call 410-481-SEAT," Dryer said. "This is a much better way to do business."

A spokeswoman for West Hollywood, Calif.-based Ticketmaster declined to comment.

The new system will get its first big test Feb. 7, the date of this year's FanFest, when single-game tickets go on sale.

Now, the Orioles will be responsible for having enough people to answer the phones to take orders.

"We'll have every breathing body and every [computer] terminal" working on Feb. 7, Dryer said.

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