Free O's tickets for kids -- why not?

To capture a new generation of fans, Orioles should sell more cheap seats

September 05, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

So the four of us are sitting in the ballpark the other night, with about 8,000 other Orioles fans and 8,000 Red Sox fans, when someone says, "All these empty seats, why don't they give them away to kids?"

The reference is to the upper deck, massively empty on a Wednesday night, with the Bostons in town and, more importantly, the young Orioles showing late-summer promise in the franchise's 13th consecutive losing season.

It's a school night, of course, but attendance was only marginally better on a recent Saturday afternoon, before the kids went back to class.

As of Friday, the Orioles had drawn 1.43 million spectators to 68 home games. Average attendance: 21,000. That means Oriole Park at Camden Yards has been at about 43 percent of capacity. So there's no surprise that the Orioles — who for most of the season lost twice as many games as they won — are sixth from the bottom in attendance among all teams in baseball. If Baltimore wasn't in the American League East, the results would be worse.

Peter Angelos & Co. goes about its business, year after year. The team loses on the field, but the team remains profitable, solvent and valuable. That's a great business model, I suppose, but it doesn't do much for the rest of us. And it certainly doesn't do much for kids, baseball's future customers.

University of Maryland journalism students spent six weeks this summer looking at the effects of the Orioles' 13 consecutive losing seasons on the community. They produced an online package of stories, (available at http://bmore.jschool.umd.edu/summer11/). In one, John Brummet, of the Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council, makes a direct connection between falling enrollment in youth baseball and the Orioles' mediocrity.

But the impact goes beyond that.

Kids need to get their hometown team in their hearts. They need to hear their parents and peers talking about their team — and not about how bad it is all the time. A team only needs to be competitive for this to happen.

I've been looking at the connection between kids and the Orioles for several years and have the legitimate concern that the team might have lost a whole generation of Maryland kids as future fans, a bunch of them to other teams. (It is wholly depressing to hear kids who grew up in the Baltimore area, now teens, declare their allegiance to the Yankees and Red Sox and only attend Orioles games when those teams are in town.)

It's not that the Orioles don't try to get kids and families to the park.

The fact is, Peter Angelos gives free tickets to kids — those who are under 10 and accompanied by a ticket-buying adult in the upper reserve. If a parent spends $15 to $23 for an upper reserve seat, he gets to bring his two kids for free. It has to be on a Thursday night, the deal is only valid on game day, and the tickets have to be purchased at the box office.

But still, that's not a bad deal.

Even better is Ollie's Bargain Night — every Tuesday, all Upper Reserve seats for just $8. On Fridays, students of any age with a valid school identification can get a seat in the left field Upper Reserve for just $6.

So, as much as we bellyache about the outrageous prices at The Angelosium at Camden Yards, there are opportunities for families to see games at a fairly reasonable expense.

But there could be more. All these deals could be expanded to all nights of the week for the rest of the season.

Does it make any sense to have all those empty seats for the remaining 11 home games when you could sell some and fill the rest with freebies for kids under 10, or even 12? Kids under 12 eat hot dogs and Dippin' Dots, don't they?

The Orioles have young and exciting players, a new manager who means business, and all sorts of potential. Kids need to see that; they need to see those guys in person.

Mr. Angelos keeps his own counsel, but I don't care. I shout in his general direction just the same: Open up The Angelosium! Expand the discounts for the Upper Reserve for the last month of the season. Do something outrageous — $10 for adults, $2 for kids under 12 for the Oct. 2 game against Detroit. Do a five-buck night. Send a message: "Hey, bring your kids to a game this month, and see what the new Birds look like."

And do it again next season — on every weeknight in June, as soon as school lets out.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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