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On common ground, Orioles and Nationals have complicated relationship

Teams must market themselves to one region while not stepping on each other's toes

May 05, 2013|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

In its most recent assessments, Forbes valued the Orioles at $618 million (17th in MLB) and the Nationals at $631 million (14th).

Through its first 11 home games, Washington averaged more than 30,000 (31,110) fans for the first time since its inaugural season in 2005. The Orioles are averaging 26,398 over 12 home games. That's up 12.1 percent from last season, which the club considers encouraging since it hasn't yet hosted the top-drawing New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.

The Orioles and Nationals both are coming off a successful year in which they made the playoffs.

Both teams enjoy wide latitude to promote themselves. The Nationals say their marketing territory and television footprint are essentially the same and include Washington, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The Orioles' reach is very similar. The team's radio network has affiliates in Washington and all the Nationals' states. "At a minimum, in each of those locations, there are radio spots that promote the club," Bader said.

Each team markets more heavily close to home. But the Orioles don't believe countless baseball fans in Washington, Virginia and other states abandoned the team once the Nationals showed up.

"We feel there are certainly many Orioles fans who have been Orioles fans for many years throughout the region that should continue to receive information on the club and want to follow the club," Bader said.

Among those outlying fans is Robert Brandon, a Washington public-interest lawyer, who retained his Camden Yards ticket plan after the Nationals arrived.

"My youngest daughter, who is 25, is perplexed and annoyed at anybody who could switch allegiance," Brandon said. "She says, 'If they were really Orioles fans, how could they switch [to the Nationals]?' "

The Nationals see it differently. Feffer, the chief operating officer since 2010, said Washington-area fans may still follow the Orioles but were ready to embrace a new team.

The Nationals — whose big-name stars are 20-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper and 24-year-old starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg — have branded themselves as young and hip, making ample use of social media and a slogan ("Natitude") designed to connote edginess.

"I think what you're seeing more and more of is that plenty of people that grew up in the Washington area — who have been dying to have a baseball team that was their own — have adopted the Nationals because that is the hometown team," Feffer said.

Feffer acknowledged that he still meets plenty of leftover Orioles fans in Washington. But he said there are "natural barriers" — such as traffic — that make it difficult to live in one city and support a team in another.

It works both ways. Some Baltimore-area fans travel to Washington to check out the Nationals.

There are no figures available on how many Nationals fans come from Baltimore. "Fans will stop by [at Nationals Park] and say, 'I'm from Arbutus,' or, 'I'm from Glen Burnie.' And they're wearing Nats gear," said Phil Wood, who hosts a Nationals postgame radio show.

"There's no law against visiting the other franchise," Angelos told The Baltimore Sun when Washington's new $611 million stadium opened in 2008. "One's a National League city and one's an American League city."

But both teams seem wary of promotions too near the other's base.

For years, the Orioles maintained their Washington outlet store that sold tickets and merchandise. The Orioles said there is no rule preventing them from operating such a store today. But the team closed it at the end of 2006.

In 2008, the Nationals sent Screech, their bald-eagle mascot, to the Inner Harbor on a weekday to greet passersby. Screech was joined by the Racing Presidents — the big-headed renditions of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They distributed freebies such as Nationals pocket schedules. The Oriole Bird mascot also was there.

The idea was to promote not just the Nationals but an impending Nationals-Orioles series at Camden Yards, said Mike Schaffer, a Washington public-relations executive who helped concoct the visit when his former firm worked as a Nationals contractor.

Screech and the Racing Presidents have not returned to the Inner Harbor since. It might be considered brazen for the Nationals' mascots to show up in Baltimore today.

"The Nats were still pretty new [in 2008], and neither team was tearing it up on the field at the time," Schaffer said last week. "Both teams are in a different situation [now]. Both have a great on-field product."



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