Red Sox fans offer assist to city put out with Orioles

April 25, 2007|By RICK MAESE

They come to town today wearing their cargo pants and backward ballcaps. They have thick accents, thirsty livers and girlfriends with blond streaks running through their hair. As they do a couple of times a year, these chowder-eating tourists invade Camden Yards as though it were their own, putting their feet on the coffee table and tracking mud onto the carpet.

And as tough as this might be for Baltimoreans to admit, you should be grateful the Boston Red Sox fans are here. They're helping keep things afloat.

Last year we made a fuss when Orioles' attendance dropped nearly 6,000 fans per game from the previous season. Well, already this year the Orioles are down more than 5,000 per game from this point last season. But wait, fear not - this is not another woe-is-the-Oriole sob story. The ballclub is still making money. It's everyone else who appears to be suffering.

An economic report commis- sioned by the Maryland Stadium Authority and released this month indicates that the total economic impact provided by the Orioles and the stadium could be more than a 25 percent drop-off - or $60 million - from when Oriole Park first opened. The thesis statement here is easy to identify: When the Orioles lose, we all lose.

According to the study, the stadium generated $166.9 million in gross state product last year - including nearly $18 million in tax revenues. Plus, nearly 2,500 jobs were associated with the stadium and more than $72 million in personal income, the report found.

For the sake of comparison, we have to time-travel to 1992, the only other year that the Maryland Stadium Authority commissioned an economic impact study for Oriole Park. The two studies were done by different groups, but used similar methods.

While some variables might be slightly different and inflation and varying tax rates certainly factor in, the initial study reported that the stadium generated $226 million in gross sales in 1992. Other numbers have improved since the initial year in Camden Yards: Fifteen years ago, there was $44 million of employee income and more than 1,500 jobs. Plus, the 1992 study reported nearly $16 million of tax dollars. (It`s probably also worth noting that the 1992 Orioles drew 18,000 more fans per game than last year`s team.)

When we talk about total impact, we're talking about the sum of direct and secondary economic impacts, which include not just the guy who sells the hot dog, but the guy who makes the bun, too.

In this sense, the Orioles' recent attendance woes are finally quantified, and put simply, the losing is hurting Baltimore in more than just the division standings.

While the decreased revenue associated with the team is certainly troubling to the larger community, the Maryland Stadium Authority pays special attention to the tax numbers, money that is used to repay the debt accrued in building the stadium. Stadium authority executive director Alison Asti said the new report indicates that tax revenues are still sufficient. "[The report] shows that tax revenue is coming in. ... The stadium, in essence, is paying for itself," she said.

These next two days, we'll be reminded how difficult it is to get a ticket to Fenway Park - and how easy it is to find a seat at Camden Yards. But, Red Sox fan, you aren't so special. Visitors of all sorts have grown accustomed to calling Oriole Park home. Even though fewer Orioles fans are turning out for games, the new study found that nearly one in four fans who did visit the ballpark last season came from outside of Baltimore.

Now before we jump to the logical conclusion - the Orioles need to do a better job of embracing their home base - it's important we realize that the numbers are tricky. The out-of-town visitor category doesn't solely encompass New York Yankees and Red Sox fans. It can include Orioles fans who live elsewhere, and even baseball fans who travel here to take in the Camden Yards experience.

In any case, it's at least a subtle reminder that the ballclub has a strong revenue stream outside of the disenchanted fans in the stadium's backyard.

The Orioles have played 12 home dates this year, and despite some exciting and competitive games, the team has drawn fewer than 20,000 fans for six of those games. Yesterday's 4-2 loss drew an announced crowd of 14,452. It's become somewhat easy to ignore the backdrop of empty green seats, but when you scan over the hotels and businesses across the skyline, you start to think about what this attendance plummet really means.

And that's when you realize how desperate that this city - as a community - is to have a winning team downtown. Right now, unless the Red Sox or Yankees are in town, unless the weather is perfect and unless the home game falls on a weekend, one of the city's crown jewels draws a crowd you'd sooner expect to find at a coffee-shop open-mike night.

This is when you don't feel so sorry for the Orioles. In this sense, they're not the victim; they're the perpetrator, letting down civic partners dependent on the team to make their ends meet.

So when you see New Englanders in the stands tonight, ask them how they're enjoying their hotel. And that restaurant around the corner. And the ballpark hot dog and the cold beers in their hands.

Financially, the Orioles might be able to get by with sagging attendance figures, but the surrounding community sure doesn't mind the economic boost these Red Sox and Yankees games provide. They might hurt in the standings, but they sure help in the pocketbook.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.