An early hometown win

Baseball: Beyond the sellout game, the Orioles' opener on Sunday promises a weekend of exposure and revenue.

April 01, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

This Sunday night's nationally televised Orioles' home opener promises to increase the game's economic benefit to Baltimore by as much as $1 million and provide media exposure that the city could never afford to buy.

For 50 seasons, the Orioles' home opener has been on a weekday - usually a Monday. This year, instead of cutting out of work early and sandwiching the game into a Monday afternoon, local and visiting fans will have the chance to make a day of it - or better yet, an entire weekend.

Bookings are up at some downtown hotels, and restaurants are racking up Sunday reservations from groups planning to attend the sold-out game, considered by many to be the official beginning of Baltimore's tourist season.

John L. Daw, general manager of Baltimore's Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, is one of the happier hoteliers in town, forecasting to sell out Saturday night and expecting a 30 percent to 40 percent increase over the typical Sunday on game day. He has a large group staying at the hotel that is connected with the game.

"It's like when the Ravens made the playoffs," he said. "It's just like Christmas in April."

"I imagine where you'll see the biggest bump is from baseball fans coming into the city before the game," said David Warschawski, president and founder of Warschawski Public Relations, which has a specialty in sports clients.

"I think where you're going to see the money being spent is at the attractions, the restaurants and the pubs. In a sense, downtown Baltimore is going to be double dipping as far as disposable income. They're not losing their regular customer over the work week, and they're having an influx of those people, in addition to new people, over the weekend."

`Bigger impact'

With a regular season game generating economic impact of an estimated $3 million to $3.5 million, the impact of this game is more likely $3.5 million to $4 million, said Richard P. Clinch director of economic research at the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore.

"A season opener, presuming the weather is nice, against one of the two major rivals, it's safe to assume a bigger impact on the city's economy," he said.

Officially, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays kicked off the 2004 baseball season in Japan on Tuesday, but Major League Baseball treats the first Sunday night game as the grand opening.

Bands will play outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards at 1 p.m. Sunday, and the ballpark will open at 5 p.m., giving even more reason for the roughly 50,000 fans to show up early to help kick off the Orioles 50th anniversary season. The game will start at 8:05 p.m.

"It's the opening game of the 2004 baseball season," said Nancy Hinds, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "It's going to draw a national audience. We're aggressively going after every promotional opportunity we can."

With buildings lit up in Orioles orange, hype built from weeks of radio promotions in Boston, and a mission to show off the city and its coming attractions, local officials plan to make sure visiting fans and radio and television crews do not soon forget Baltimore.

"We could never afford to pay for this kind of exposure for Baltimore in front of a national audience," Hinds said. "As a city, you can't ask for anything more than this."

No sellout

Despite the hoopla, some hoteliers caution that the confluence of spring break, Passover and the Easter holiday might cut into the number of overnight visitors.

"We're not doing as well as expected," said Mary L. Sipes, senior sales manager at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore. "We expected to get a lot of people from the Boston area. My personal thought is that it's on a Sunday night, and it's right before Easter."

Many people may be traveling over the Easter holiday and are not interested in going anywhere so soon before, she speculated. "We're disappointed in the turnout. We thought this would be a good way to kick off."

Instead of the sellout crowd the hotel had anticipated, projected occupancy Sunday night is hovering closer to 50 percent or 60 percent, Sipes said. Saturday night is projected to sell out, but only because there is a cheerleading convention in town, she said.

The story is similar at the 439-room Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore.

"We unfortunately are not seeing nearly the demand that we had hoped for," said Christopher Tompkins, director of sales and marketing for the Radisson. "If it had been a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, there's no doubt we would have sold out. I think the whole city would have sold out."

Orioles officials estimate that fewer than 1,000 tickets are sold directly to people who live a substantial distance from Baltimore, said Bill Stetka, director of public relations for the Orioles. He noted that some out-of-towners may be buying tickets through other avenues.

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