O’s doing good things…do you know it?

April 04, 2008 | Drew Forrester

With all the discussion this week about the non sell-out on opening day and “Rodger’s Forge Night” on Wednesday evening (everyone who lives in Rodger’s Forge showed up), I figured it was time for the grand-daddy of them all…so, here it is. You can consider this my official “Attendance Manifesto”. I’ll load the gun and fire all the bullets and leave nothing in the holster. Enjoy.
 
I chose the title of this carefully because it probably sums up exactly where the Orioles are right now.
 
Read this carefully: The Orioles are doing A LOT of good things in the community these days. In fact, some of it actually started in 2007. They have developed some interesting and worthwhile game-night promotions. They have unveiled OriolesREACH, which is their community relations arm that hopes to connect the franchise with the people of Baltimore in a way they haven’t tried to do in a long time. Their players are involved in a number of charitable endeavors, a handful of which include bringing the less-fortunate to home games in 2008.
 
I am keenly aware of all of that because I DO read the press releases they send me on a weekly basis. I read the material they distribute in the press box, when they graciously allow me “the right” to sit there and cover the team/game.
 
So, that’s the good news. The Orioles – criticized long and hard in the past for NOT having much presence in their own backyard (Baltimore) – have started to really make strides to improve in that area.
 
The bad news? Their stubborn, archaic and spiteful marketing mindset are robbing them of fans who might otherwise be inclined to support the club if they knew about all of these public relations efforts the team is developing right now.
 
More on that in a while…
 
A topic of discussion this week (and for the last several years, actually) on the air at WNST has been about “winning”. There are plenty of people out there that believe winning on the field is the tonic for what ails the Orioles in the stands. “Win, and the people will come back,” is what I’ve heard (and read) a lot of this week. 
 
That is, of course, true. It’s true in the same way that THIS is true. If you’re a male and you’re reading this right now, how would your fortunes with women change if you woke up tomorrow and suddenly became, overnight, a dead ringer for George Clooney? Think you could go out to a bar and be beating them off with a stick (no, I’m not making an Aubrey Huff joke here…) if you looked just like George Clooney? Sure you would. 
 
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if the Orioles started winning again, more people would show up at the park, just like it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you looked more like George Clooney and less like yourself, you’d have more females hovering around you.
 
The problem, of course, is that the team MIGHT not win for a while. In fact, they haven’t won since 1997. 
 
I think the Orioles employed that mindset back in the late ‘90’s – “to hell with those fans…they’ll come back when we start winning again.” Only problem with that? It’s 2008 and they haven’t won for 10 seasons.
 
Finally, it seems, the Orioles understand that in the midst of all this losing, it’s probably better to try and stay connected with the fans than it is to piss them off. I don’t think they bought into that originally. I think they went out of their way to make sure we, the fans, understood “who was boss”. Can’t you hear those meetings now? “You know, it might be a good idea for us to put BALTIMORE on the road jerseys now that Washington has a team…it might be a good way for us to show that we care about the city and it might help people feel good about us again.” – “Nonsense…we don’t let the fans factor in when it comes to making marketing decisions. When we win, they’ll come back, even if it says “Bin Laden for President” on the front of the jerseys.”
 
Throughout the ’90’s, the team raked in the cash on the wave of a new ballpark, Cal’s record and a good team in ’96 and ’97. Once the newness went away, Cal broke the record and Gillick and Johnson were fired – err, I mean, “resigned”, everything started to go downhill from there. 3 million fans per-season was the norm at Oriole Park in the ‘90’s. They took that for granted. Now, the stats say they’re drawing 2 million per-season, but even the team themselves know those numbers can’t be believed. 
 
What I’ve been saying for years now, is this: It’s all well and good to believe that winning will bring people back – and it will. But, what to do in the meantime? Shouldn’t you be going out of your way to KEEP people, instead of driving them away with shoddy treatment at the park, poor public relations efforts and an intentional disassociation with the city where your ballpark sits? I’d say yes, wouldn’t you?
 
Well, I now think the Orioles have said, “YES” to that question. Finally. They NOW realize, after all this time, that it would be better to KEEP fans (or get them back, at least) with good treatment at the park, improved and connective community relations efforts and a return to respecting Baltimore and its core baseball fan(s).
 
They won’t admit that they’ve given in, naturally. They have far too much pride to say, “you know what, we’ve finally seen the light – we do need to improve our PR and Community efforts.” Doing that would, of course, admit what we all already know – that they were falling short in previous years. 
 
It doesn’t matter that they won’t admit it. They’ve turned the corner. It’s evident. I can admit it for them. The Orioles have put a greater emphasis on PR and Community Relations because, finally, they realized the old way – pissing people off by doing it the way the club wanted regardless of the negative impact – just wasn’t working.
 
So, if that’s the case and the club truly has started a community/civic rebirth, why were the crowds down last year and why, through 2 games anyway, is the talk of the 2008 season more about the poor attendance on Monday and Wednesday than the stellar bullpen work in both of those games?
 
I know why.
 
Do you?
 
The crowds are down and people aren’t grasping their new promotional and public relations efforts because NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT THEM.
 
I know, because they e-mail me stuff everyday. Side note: Isn’t it funny that I wasn’t approved for a season media credential (and the guy in Lancaster, PA was…) and yet, I get e-mails from them virtually every single day, keeping me up to date on the team’s happenings? 
 
Anyway…I see what they’re doing. I read their PR stuff. 
 
But, here’s where their stubborn, archaic and spiteful marketing approach takes over.
 
I know about it all, but you don’t…because they won’t allow any of their people on the radio or on TV to talk about it and spread the word.
 
This is NOT just about WNST Radio. Far from it. It’s Safety Patrol Night on Saturday night vs. Seattle. Did you know that? Did you know the Orioles are honoring all of Maryland’s Safety Patrol members (nearly 5,500 of them) on Saturday? Of course you didn’t. But, if you were listening to, say, 92Q this morning and (pick a player) was on the air talking about the weekend series with the Mariners and how the club is honoring members of The Safety Patrol, you’d know about it. Did you know Jamie Walker brings people from Walter Reed Medical Center to a game at least once a homestand and pays for the tickets and their food out of his own pocket? Of course not. But, if you were listening to WCBM today and he was on the air talking about the weekend series with the Mariners and the reason(s) why he helps out the folks at Walter Reed Medical Center, you’d know about it. Did you know they’re giving away Knit Caps tonight? Of course not. But, if the club allowed Kevin Millar (or anyone else) on the air at WNST, WBAL and WPOC this morning to talk about this weekend’s series with the Mariners and tonight’s cap give-away, you’d know about it.
 
Stubborn. Archaic. Spiteful. For whatever reason (they’ll say, by the way, it’s in their contract with CBS Radio to not allow any of their personnel on anywhere else in town, but that’s not true…), they would rather NOT allow their people on the airwaves to help promote their product and/or help them sell tickets.  Why won’t they allow their people on? We don’t know. Because they won’t answer the question when asked. They never answer a tough question. 
 
What do you know about OriolesREACH? Nothing. It’s a great program they’ve initiated over there, but no one knows about it because they refuse to tell people about it. Well, that’s not true. They talk about it on CBS Radio, on MASN and during their radio/TV broadcasts. Contrary to what they believe over there, people in Baltimore actually DO listen to WNST, WPOC, WBAL, WCBM, WTMD, WLIF, etc. People DO watch Channel 2, Channel 11, Fox-45, Comcast SportsNet, etc.
 
Last week, when I asked a member of their organization why I couldn’t have a player on to talk about opening day, I was told, “What, so you can make a profit off of it?”. Huh? Make a profit off of it? How the hell am I going to make a profit off of having Brian Roberts on to talk about opening day? 
 
Here’s a franchise generating $60 million in profit off of their TV network (and that’s just from being on Comcast’s system) worrying about some “insignificant” radio station making a profit off of having one of their players on the air with them for 10-15 minutes.
 
I just wanted to have Brian Roberts on to talk baseball, not make money off of him.
 
I just wanted to tell people about opening day, not make money off of it.
 
I just wanted people to know about opening week, Knit Cap Night, Safety Patrol Night, etc., not cash in off of it.
 
The sooner the team abandons this brass knuckles marketing approach and decides to come back to planet Earth and market themselves the way every other team in America does, the sooner they won’t have crowds of 10,505 anymore. 
 
The sooner the team understands that the programs they’ve put in place ARE good, ARE an improvement and ARE worthy of support from Baltimore’s sports fans, the sooner they might also understand that having those programs and NOT telling people about them is self-defeating.
 
And, the sooner the team realizes that they have to BRING the people back – almost, literally, by the hand, the better off they’ll be.
 
The Orioles are doing good things.
 
But they still want to fight.
 
They should put down the gloves, take a shower, come out clean and embrace everyone in Baltimore, including ALL of the radio stations, TV stations and newspapers.
 
Hell, they embrace the guy in Lancaster, PA and he’s 90 miles away.
 
It’s time they realized their marketing policies are silly. And costly. And, by shunning everyone in town except the handful of media people who pay them, all they’re doing in the long run is robbing themselves of revenue, fans and, here’s that word again – profits.
 
It’s time they realized a lot of us out there DO see the good things they’re doing and we DO want to help.
 
But I can’t pass the word along for them unless they’re willing to cooperate. And, neither can 92Q, WBAL, WCBM, Channel 2, Fox-45, etc.
 
At some point, like they realized their PR efforts needed an upgrade, they’ll also realize that black-balling 10-15 radio and TV stations in town isn’t smart. 
 
We’re all willing to talk baseball and talk about the Orioles.
 
And, we’re not that worried about making a profit.
 
If their team is good and they put people in the seats, everyone wins. That’s all we want.
 
So, the choice belongs to the Orioles.
 
They can keep drawing 10,000 a night and stick to their guns and do things “their way”.
 
Or, they can swallow their pride, be more available and accessible, and watch the crowds swell, win or lose.
 
The football team in town gets it. They always have. Maybe that’s why you can’t buy a ticket to one of their games.
 
Let’s hope the Orioles “get it” soon, too.
 
They have too much good stuff going on to keep it a secret all summer.
 
 

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