O’s give season ticket holders the needle…

December 18, 2007 | Drew Forrester

The Orioles offered me the position of Director of Sales and Marketing back in 1993 and I didn’t take it, instead opting to stay on as the GM of the soccer team in Baltimore.

Nearly 15 years later, I now (still) find myself serving as the team’s quasi Marketing-Man as they stumble and bumble their way through yet ANOTHER mistake-filled off-season. 

In case you missed it – and many of you probably did until The Sun published a major piece on Monday morning – the O’s have raised ticket prices for the ’08 season.  Let me say this, first:  Raising ticket prices is actually NOT that big of a deal.  Teams do it all the time.  It’s part of doing business.  Fans generally don’t like it – who would? – but in the world of sports, with more money being spent on players, coaches and staff, SOMEONE has to bear the brunt of those increased expenses and the fans usually pay the price. 

Raising prices is one thing.  Sending out a letter to your season ticket holders in mid-December under the premise of "we’re excited about our new, young players for ’08 and beyond" and then casually – some would say it was shady more than casual – tossing in the season ticket amount for ’08 without explaining that the prices have been increased was, well, typical of the Orioles and, obviously, just not very smart. 

The Ravens raise prices every two years.  Again, it’s not the most welcomed letter you receive when it arrives in your mailbox.  But, at least the Ravens come right out and say, "we’re raising the prices (next season) and here’s why."  They don’t hide the increase within a bunch of rhetoric about new players, future plans, etc.  They don’t let you do the math on your own – as the O’s letter did last week – rather, they spell it all out for you in King’s English – or King’s Math, I guess, and you know up front how much more you’ll be paying for your "right" to watch football. 

Why would the Orioles try to discreetly impose a ticket price increase?  Do they think people weren’t going to do the math?

And who was it at The Warehouse that first came up with this brainstorm to raise the prices, anyway?  Who?  The team has lost 10 straight seasons.  They just traded away their most celebrated signing of the last five years.  By their own admission, they’re starting a rebuilding process that will no doubt lead to MORE losses before it will lead to more wins (but that’s how rebuilding goes — and that’s acceptable…to me, at least).  And, 30 months ago they started their own TV network in which they are – for lack of a better term – bilking us all out of $2.00 per-month, whether we watch the games or not.  At last count, 4 million people are being billed – per-month – for MASN.  Since the O’s don’t like to do math (as evidenced by the season ticket increase letter), I’ll do it for them.  That’s 4 million x $2.00/month x 12 months.  Let’s see if that Glen Burnie High School math class that Miss Wright taught still works for me.  $96 million?  Yep…$96 million.  It was estimated in a 2006 trade publication that their ’07 expenses for MASN were going to be in the neighborhood of $30 million.  If they MADE $66 million last year, why do they need another x-amount per-game from a good portion of their season ticket holders? 

I’d like to ask that question – and others – to the Orioles, but their Director of Communications doesn’t return my calls, e-mails or text messages (how’s that for the oxymoron of the day…the "Communications" guy doesn’t "communicate").  Anyway, he WAS quoted in The Sun today, giving up some well-written, twice-checked response about raising prices by saying something about "the experience at Camden Yards is still affordable for the whole family" and blah, blah, blah.  It was PR 101, right from the textbook.

But why – and I would ask this question to them if I were permitted to – did they try to hide the price increase? 

They did this last year with the "Baltimore" road jerseys issue.  Rather than just come out and say, "we’re filing the paperwork and going through the steps necessary to change our uniforms for 2008" they instead kept it a big secret and then privately shelved it when "the wrong people" found about it. 

Here’s the one other thing the O’s have missed out on in the winter of 2007.  Their neighbor to the south – 400 yards down the road – has stunk up the sports scene this season and are prime targets for a take-over.  In a year in which the Ravens have angered fans with their poor play, not to mention the decision to retain their embattled head coach, the O’s have totally squandered an opportunity that doesn’t come along too often in Baltimore.  They could have spent the winter one-upping the Ravens – and they wouldn’t have needed to do it publicly…they could have done it smartly and discreetly and no one would have known the difference.

Rather than raise ticket prices, why not drop some of the seats by a buck or two?  Hell, except for the 20 home games a year against Boston and New York – and the home opener, "hat day" and "run the bases with your favorite player day" – 30,000 of the 48,000 seats are empty most nights.  If you’re lowering the prices on seats not many people are buying, what’s the risk?  The Orioles did the exact opposite with their recent ticket hike.  They raised the prices on season ticket holder seats.  To me, that’s the equivalent of taking strike three looking.  Tsk, tsk.

With the football team slumbering through the remaining couple of weeks in their season, it’s natural to start thinking ahead to spring.  Once the holidays are gone, it will only 7 weeks until pitchers and catchers report.  Baseball season is just around the corner.  It’s a shame the O’s don’t have a marketing plan that’s based more on the realities of where they’ve been and where they’re going rather than "how much more revenue can we generate?".  If they would take some time to just be HONEST with the people in town who still like baseball, that fresh approach could get them somewhere.  Instead, they continue to duck and dodge everyone like Ali did to Foreman in the "Rope-A-Dope" fight, then issue week-old "explanations" on their web-site when the truth comes out about their ticket price hike.

Last thing:  When’s opening day?  Do you know the date?  I offered this up last spring and no one took me up on it.  Maybe there’s an edict over there to not listen to any suggestion I give.  There’s obviously an edict to not return my calls or e-mails…maybe there’s a rule that all of my suggestions are to be ignored until further notice. 

Why is there not a banner displayed on the front of the warehouse that reads, "HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE ORIOLES!!  OPENING DAY IS MARCH 31 vs. TAMPA BAY.  SEE YOU THERE!" 

I brought this up last year and had someone with the Maryland traffic division send me an e-mail that indicated over 600,000 cars pass that intersection at 395/Conway every week.  Would the Stadium Authority charge the Orioles something for hanging that banner on The Warehouse?  Maybe.  If so, pay that invoice and start marketing for the upcoming season.  Or, if you have a friendly, working partnership with TSA, perhaps they’d understand you’re just trying to get a head start on ’08 and maybe they’d let you throw the banner up there at no cost for a month.  Oh, that’s right, TSA and the O’s don’t have a good relationship.  My bad.

Speaking of invoices, I’m sending one over to the O’s for the marketing assistance I’ve given them today.  One hour at $375…no, make that $400.  I’m raising MY prices this year as well.