Orioles join other spenders in hoping a big star can brighten ticket sales, too

What is the name worth?

February 01, 2005|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

For the New York Mets, the value of signing a couple of high-profile free agents this winter hasn't been an extraordinary number of new season tickets sold - at least not yet.

It's been the buzz created by the $119 million deal for Carlos Beltran and the $53 million contract signed by Pedro Martinez.

"They have gotten people talking about us again," Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said yesterday. "We're on the talk shows, we're on TV. That really hasn't been there for a couple of years."

After a frustrating offseason in the free-agent market, the Orioles are on the verge of acquiring aging superstar Sammy Sosa from the Chicago Cubs. Team officials declined to speak on the record yesterday about how the acquisition will affect ticket sales because the deal is not officially done.

But one club source said that Saturday - the day after the news broke - "was a very good day" for ticket sales.

Before Sosa, the Orioles' offseason was shaping up to be a washout. They were finalists in the bidding for Carl Pavano, Richie Sexson and Carlos Delgado, but ended up the bridesmaid each time. And, in the Orioles' first season with direct competition in 34 years, unrest percolated among fans who wanted to see the team improve.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who was in Milwaukee yesterday negotiating with Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig over how his team will be financially protected from the effects of competition with the Washington Nationals, said last week that the free-agent salaries handed out this offseason "are beyond what 90 percent of the teams are able to pay."

The Mets, clearly one of the 10 percent of the teams that can pay, drew 2.3 million fans to Shea Stadium last year, 18th best in the majors. The New York Yankees, who as always were active in the offseason with the signing of Pavano and the acquisition of Randy Johnson, led the majors in attendance with 3.77 million. The Orioles were 13th with 2.7 million.

Last year, one of the biggest free-agent signings was made by the Anaheim Angels, who got Vladimir Guerrero for $70 million. Steve Shiffman, director of ticket sales for the Angels, said phones "didn't stop ringing" after the signing.

"People jumped on the bandwagon," he said. "It was an exciting time."

The Angels drew nearly 3.4 million last season, third in the majors. In 2003, coming off a world championship season, they drew a little more than 3 million.

The Guerrero signing "really helped put us over the top," Shiffman said of the outfielder, who was named the American League's Most Valuable Player. "We signed Bartolo Colon about a month earlier, and he was the No. 1 free-agent pitcher out there at the time. But even though pitchers win games, they don't sell tickets. People want to see hitters."

In New York, the Mets haven't put single-game seats on sale yet, and Horwitz couldn't estimate how many season tickets had been sold since the team snared Beltran and Martinez. The Mets also signed free-agent pitcher Kris Benson for $22.5 million for three years.

In any event, Horwitz said, the signings won't be the ultimate decider on how many fans the team draws this season. Winning will be.

"Truthfully, it depends on how we play," he said. "You can make all the moves in the world, but it comes down to how you play."

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