My Two Coins on the Camden Yards Attendance Debate

August 21, 2012 | James Finn

I’m a numbers guy.  I like to crunch numbers.  They make sense to me.  In school, I always did well in mathematics (until cosines, differentials, and theorems were introduced). Professionally, I was always the guy at work that could pick the appropriate data out of a profit and loss spreadsheet and put it to good use.  The only time numbers deceive me is when I check my account balances in my checking and savings.

Long and short, I know numbers.

That withstanding, there has long been a debate as to where the people that used to populate Oriole Park, the most beautiful stadium in all of professional baseball (bias not withstanding) have gone.  Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear argument about how the Orioles have “sucked the fun” out of Baltimore baseball with a decade and a half of poor baseball, Peter Angelo’s is an old man that is only interested in lining his pockets, or “Since Baltimore has a football team, I don’t care as much about baseball”.

Everyone has their reasons, and that’s fine. Personally, I’ve supported the Orioles.  I make an effort to go to as many games as I can (even though I typically work nights and weekends), and have even been a partial Season Ticket plan holder in better economic times.  I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to burn a pitchfork for the front office.  For the record, Rupert Murdoch, GE, and Microsoft get money from my cable bill every month, and I’ve never once complained about it.

But enough of my mini soap box rant.  Here’s where the number crunching comes in.  I won’t attempt to disprove anyone’s theories on why the attendance is how it is.  I’ll simply present the numbers, and provide comparative analysis.

OK Fine, i’ll put my lean on it too.  It won’t be all numbers.

The Baltimore Orioles, having played 60 home games, record an average attendance of 25,782, which ranks them 23rd of 30 teams.  The teams with the two worst average attendances are the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays, oddly enough, the teams currently sandwiching the Orioles in the wildcard standings.  Baltimore currently pulls about 5,000 more people per night then the aforementioned legitimate playoff contenders.  They’ll be detractors that say they’re is no market for Baseball in Tampa, and no real reason even look at that side of the Golden Gate Bridge, but enough people there every night drop down their hard earned lettuce to watch their city’s version of Moneyball.

Keeping with Tampa Bay, the Rays put a winning ball club on the field.  They’ve made the playoffs 3 of 4 years (not an easy thing to do in the AL East), are just 4 years removed from the World Series, and still draw horrible numbers.

The nearest neighbor to Baltimore, Washington DC gets about 4,000 more turnstile clicks a night, but the Nats have the benefit of no neighboring teams to the south until you hit Atlanta. Something the Orioles enjoyed until 2005, and many will say having them there cut out a lot of fans.  They also have young, sexy names like Harper and Strasburg, something the Orioles might experience when they call up Bundy, and what they are somewhat experiencing with Machado.

For those in the “We’re tired of losing” set, lets look at the Pirates for comparison purposes.  Their futility has stretched since 1992.  The city has not one, but 2 other professional championship winning franchises in town (Steelers, Penguins).  They are having just as remarkable and unexpected a season as the Orioles.  Yet, in a newer ballpark, they are only averaging 1,000 more people a night then the Orioles?  How can this be?

The argument about financial times tends to make the most sense to me.  Baltimore’s unemployment rate has been as high as 10 percent in recent years, and it’s hard to justify taking a family of 4 to the ballpark.  But Camden Yards allows you to bring food and drink in from home.  Or as I like do to, patronize the street vendors. Good food, much cheaper than inside.

But even the argument about the economy doesn’t sit right with me.  The city of Detroit, with fall of General Motors (which essentially employed the entire city), has become a depressing tale of poverty, despondency, and affliction.  But, don’t tell that to the fans who consistently empty their wallets at Red Wings, Lions, AND Tigers games (apologies to the once great Pistons). The Lions averaged  98.8% capacity at their games last season, Red Wings, 100.7%, and the Tigers, this season, have the 7th best attendance in the league.

Finally, I’ve heard that the Orioles lack a “Superstar” player.  A big name to draw people in.  That was true for many years.  We didn’t have a big name that identified our franchise like a Jeter does for the Yankees, or how Pujols did for the Cardinals.  Even this season, with the constant roster moves, and questions like “How do I pronounce Quintanilla”, it still lends many to believe this remains true. But to that I answer the “superstar” debate with Adam Jones.  He’s got a great all-around skill set.  He makes spectacular defensive plays that keep him on SportsCenter.  He’s extremely active in social media, and is a marketable player you can build a franchise around, and we’ve locked him up long term.  Matt Wieters is gaining respect as one of the best catchers in baseball, Jim Johnson is in the conversation as the best closer in baseball, and the young roster in the wings has superstar potential.

Ultimately, Attendance won’t fix itself overnight.  Anyone with half a brain will understand a 3 game sweep of the Mariners isn’t going to create a line from the ticket window to Pratt Street of rabid fans to watch the Orange and Black battle the Royals.  That said, the Orioles performance is helping right the ship, and it does show in the attendance.  Will we ever get to the point where we’re selling out every game a la the Redsox or Phillies?  Not likely, but the butts are slowly coming back to the seats.

I’m not attempting to advocate going or not going to the games.  It’s your money, spend it how you wish.  How you choose to support your team, or whatever team you root for, is your business.  Again, not trying to be a martyr for change, just presenting numbers and such.

Selfishly though, as much as I want to see a packed house every night, and have more people share the same emotion and excitement I do as a fan,  I’ve gotten used to being able to spend a quiet night at the ballpark.  A calm Wednesday evening, away from drunk, underage college students.  Maybe while the Twins are in town, so as to avoid people who want to “Make the drive down from Bawston”.  An Ice Cold Water, for only one Dollar, that I bought from a shirtless man with a megaphone outside the stadium.  Quiet enough where if I want to make a comment of how Betemit was born with stone hands, he can hear me.

If you’re more interested in delving further into attendance, wins, payroll, and how everything correlates, I suggest reading this article.  Math junkies like myself will appreciate it.

As always, I welcome criticism in the comments below.

I welcome followers to my Twitter also @JamesTFinn.