O’s main priority now: Reward the fans who actually show up

May 18, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Win, lose or draw tonight against the Royals (and don’t discount the possibility of a draw between these two moribund outfits), this homestand has given everyone a full-color glimpse into Orioles baseball 2010.

I saw it all in personal hi-def last night when a bunch of us were goofy enough to wander down to the ballpark in the rain and watch the Orioles and the bats-they-didn’t-buy in the off-season drop a 4-3 decision to the lowly Kansas City Royals.

The game?  Not anything different than we’ve seen time and time again this year.  Honestly, it wasn’t anything to get THAT worked up over.  The O’s bats were silenced anytime runners were in scoring position and the other team’s pitcher did just enough to keep the O’s struggling lineup off the scoreboard.  Brad Bergesen – costly balk notwithstanding – did more than enough to earn a better result than the loss he added to the back of his bubble gum card.  It was, quite honestly, the way the O’s have lost a lot of games this year:  close, but no cigar.

At 12-27, it’s fairly evident by now we’re settling in for what appears to be another “lost summer” of baseball in Baltimore.  There will (fingers crossed here) be some stretch in the hopefully-soon future where the Birds win 9 of 13.  They might put together a month where they go 16-9 and slash into that 24 games below .500 mark that they’ll be embracing by mid June.

The team is the team.  Not very good.

And that brings me to my assessment of the franchise RIGHT NOW and what sort of things they probably should be considering NOW in preparation for what could be a llllooooooooonnnnngggggg summer at OPACY.

Before I start, though, I find it interesting to note that folks around town who have previously been allergic to criticizing the team and their woeful ways are showing some cracks.  Take a few minutes today and go to Orioles Hangout, Camden Chat and The Loss Column and you’ll see what I mean.  Even with some funding and promotional assistance from the team itself, the crazies at Orioles Hangout have recently started to pile on MacPhail, Trembley, Angelos and the product being delivered on a nightly basis at OPACY.  I’m sure the guy who runs the OH is sweating a little bit…faced with the possibility that his legion of readers – previously commanded by him to speak positively about the O’s or face his swiftly-applied cyber-boot – are in the beginning stages of a full-fledged turn of allegiance.  Even my buddy Neal Shaffer at The Loss Column took to posting a front-page photo of last night’s friends-and-family gathering at OPACY and bemoaning the fact that interest in the club, right now, is apparently at an all-time low.

It’s tough to watch – this freefall – and sometimes even tougher to talk and write about, because no matter what you do or say these days, it smells like nothing more than editorial piling on.

But it’s not piling on when you’re observing what’s going on with the baseball team these days and then offering comment on either what’s going on or how they can improve on it.

And that’s what I’m doing today.

To start, I completely understand what happened on Monday night.  The Royals are terrible and a completely unattractive opponent.  It’s a Monday night and game 7 of an 8-game homestand.  The crowds vs. Cleveland were decent, so there’s a theory that “people who were looking to go to a game” went over the weekend.  Then, of course, you add in the bad weather and an equally bad home team and you have the tonic for what we saw on Monday night.  It was a 1986 Skipjacks vs. Fredericton crowd at the Baltimore Arena.  No matter what anyone says at The Warehouse, they know for a fact they had less than 2,000 warm bodies in the place on Monday night.  And that’s not a low blow…

But the crowd wasn’t really a shock to me.  I figured (and tweeted such) that it would be in the 2,200 range.  It is — what it is.

That said, the Orioles have a problem and it’s growing, not diminishing.

People are getting restless.  Really restless.  Even the diehards…the Apologists…those who refuse to criticize the club — they’re starting to walk the plank and say “I’ve had enough”.

But those people — and baseball fans in general — can be saved in Baltimore.  Or, if not “saved”, they can at least feel better about the local nine and the way the fans are reacting to what MIGHT be — MIGHT be — an epically disastrous next four months of baseball.

Here’s how:

These days, the Orioles are consistently making an effort to DRAW fans to the ballpark.  Bobblehead night.  T-Shirt night.  Upper deck discount ticket night.  And so on, and so on.  The O’s are doing all the tried and true stuff like give-aways, fireworks and Little League Day to put butts in the seats.

That philosophy should shift right now to this:

Rather than focusing all of their efforts on drawing people to the ballpark, the Orioles should now focus FIRST on rewarding the people who do show up.

I’ve remarked enough about the silly ticket price surcharge for the day-of-game purchase at the stadium box office.  I felt it, personally, on Monday night when I walked up to the ticket window and saw the ticket I was buying would normally be $8.00 but it was $10.00, for me, because I didn’t have the vision to buy the seat in advance.

That’s the dumbest move in the book of “Dumb Moves for Dummies”.

But if it’s going to stay — and based on the stubborn, mule-like thinking by the team’s “braintrusts”, I’m sure it’s not being changed, then here’s something the club SHOULD do to reward people who actually show up and watch the games in person.

And Monday night would have been an absolutely PERFECT occasion to do this:  Flashback to Monday morning.  At what point yesterday, based on the weather for the next 16 hours or so, did the club realize or at least consider the crowd against the Royals could be beyond dismal?  By 10:00 am or so?  Noon at the latest?  That gave them a full 7 hours (before the game started) to come up with a plan for rewarding the die-hards (like me) who braved the non-baseball-conditions to come out and watch the impending thriller between the O’s and Royals.

Seven FULL hours to do something to reward the fans who showed up.

My suggestion?  Sure…it’s simple.  Print up 5,000 coupons (in the event 5,000 showed up…unlikely…but you have to prepare for more, not less) that are nothing more than $3.00 ticket offers.  Pick three games in June or July and allow those fans holding that $3.00 ticket coupon to buy an upper deck ticket for $3.00.  The games?  Who cares…the stadium’s 80% empty except for when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town, but here, I’ll do it right now — Wed, June 23 vs. Florida, Monday, July 19 vs. Tampa Bay and Thursday, July 22 vs. Minnesota.  Easy enough.

Last night, as I left the ballpark, it would have been a kind gesture to have one of the ushers say, “We REALLY appreciate you coming out tonight and the Orioles would like you to come back in the summer when the weather is better” and then hand me that $3.00 ticket coupon.

It’s called a REWARD.

Charging fans more money for a day-of-game ticket purchase is a PUNISHMENT.

It’s time the team stopped punishing the fans.  The few who are left and who come out should be thanked and rewarded in a new, obvious way by the ballclub.

Print up 50,000 of those $3.00 coupons and have them in storage for things like what happened last night — horrible weather, with a horrible team, on a weeknight…it’s a recipe for no one showing up.

So when people DO show up, you have to go out of your way to say, “We really DO appreciate your attendance tonight”.

Trying hard to get people to go to the games is fine.  Someone over at The Warehouse has to earn their paycheck trying to peddle tickets to the Rosedale Little League.

But the shift by the Orioles NOW – in late May – with the team about to produce one of the worst seasons on and off the field in franchise history…should go to rewarding fans who actually DO make their way down to the ballpark and spend their time watching it all.

I gave the Orioles the “Ride your Bike to the Ballpark” idea in the summer of 2007 during an on-air “things the O’s could do to sell tickets” segment on the show.  Last year, finally, after a couple of years of hearing me hand-deliver them that winning concept, the Birds took advantage of it and had Jeremy Guthrie ride his bike to the ballpark for a Sunday afternoon home game and then packaged a game ticket with “free bike parking” and by all accounts, it was a hit.

What’s the old Churchill line?  “We can achieve anything as long as we don’t care who gets the credit.”  I’m just glad the Orioles did SOMETHING new to get people to the ballpark.  That they used MY idea?  Flattering, perhaps, but not at all a concern of mine.  I’m thrilled they used it.

But now, in 2010, the reality is this:  Fewer people than ever before are actually GOING to the games.  Take away the Yankees and Red Sox and you’re talking – on average – of about 10,000 live human beings in the stadium on any given day/night.  They need to start rewarding the people who are actually showing up down there to watch the team play.

All those left-over t-shirts from the meager Tuesday night gatherings in April and May?  Give them away during the next homestand as people are leaving the stadium.  “Thanks for coming out.  Here’s a free t-shirt.”

Sometimes, the most successful and appreciated forms of reward, from a marketing standpoint, are the ones that surprise the patrons.  10 years ago or so, a friend of mine owned a successful downtown eating establishment.  Three times a year, he’d decide at 4pm to give everyone who showed up a FREE meal that night.  He didn’t pre-announce it or anything like that.  He simply instructed his wait staff to let the customers know, when they were given their check, that tonight’s food was complimentary.

A great touch.

That’s what the Orioles should be doing these days.

At the beginning of every homestand, the front office stuffed suits should be saying to themselves, “What can we do over the next week or so to show the fans who come out that we appreciate their support during this tough time?”

Charging them MORE money to buy tickets is idiotic, but my sources at The Warehouse say the policy isn’t going to change.

So why not at the very least offer a back-end reward for the people who come out to a game?  They might even come back in June or July and use that $3.00 discount coupon.  Just don’t charge them $5.00 for it if they decide to wait until the day of the game to buy the ticket.

The Orioles will likely read this and scoff at the idea of doing something like actually using manpower at game’s end to distribute stuff to the fans as they exit the ballpark.

I can hear it now.  “What if we give these coupons out and people actually line up and want them?  Our ushers might be there for 30 minutes handing them out.”

Yep, maybe they will.

That’s the whole idea.

Go out of the way for the folks who are coming out.

Or, just continue to do what you’re doing now, gouging people with a daily surcharge and entertaining folks with the mustard, ketchup, relish race during the 3rd inning break.

One thing for sure:  even the dyed-in-the-wood faithful are starting to run out of faith.

And when they turn on you, you know it’s over.

Now’s the time to change your ways — on the run, practically — and start doing something extra for the fans who are still interested in the team.  It won’t hurt business at all.  In fact, it might wind up helping.