It’s time for the Orioles “to get clean”

August 20, 2012 | Drew Forrester

Of all the things regarding the Orioles I followed while I was on vacation, I have to admit attendance at Camden Yards was the least of them.

For starters, it’s not really a big deal anymore with the club’s owner all but guaranteed upwards of $50 million or more from the regional sports network he started six years ago.

And this year, for the first time since we were all starting to stare Y2K in the face, the team’s record on the field is of the utmost importance.

In sports, winning and the discussion about how it’s happening are always more important than attendance.

Well, almost always.

In this town, particularly, attendance is an interesting topic because the baseball team used to draw more than 45,000 people per-game.  Now, unless they’re giving away a bobblehead or playing the Yankees over a weekend series, the Birds are lucky to draw 20,000 live, breathing human beings at the ballpark.

And since the Ravens fill every seat, every game – thereby eliminating any silly notion that Baltimore “isn’t a sports town” – there’s clearly a disconnect between the baseball team and their fan base.  Or what’s no longer left of it.

But will September baseball that matters bring the people back en masse?  When the Orioles host the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 12-13-14, will the seats be filled to the brim as Charm City experiences important baseball for the first time since Clinton ran the country?

Will they?

I don’t know.

“What has happened to the attendance?” is a debate that many have entered.

We all know the answer to that question.  It can be summed up nicely by just saying this:  “The team has stunk, the organization has been poorly marketed and the advent of their own attendance-death-knell, the TV deal with MASN, has made it easy to simply say, ‘F-it, I’ll stay home and watch some of the game until they fall behind 6-1 in the 4th inning.”

That’s it in a nutshell.

Combine a horrible on-field product (which, they had from 1998 through 2011) with terrible marketing (it’s been as bad as the on-field assembly, if not worse by a whisker) and put every home game on TV and you have the recipe for no one showing up.

How many times over the last few years have you said to yourself, “I’d go down there tonight, but I got home late from work and I’m kinda beat…I’ll just watch it on TV.”???  Or, “It’s just too hot and humid tonight.  I’ll just catch it on MASN.”  It’s easy to stay home and watch it when you can — wait for it — “stay home and watch it.”

But as S.E. Hinton once wrote, “That was then, this is now.”

In terms of the Orioles, “then” was prior to this season.  Attendance has been falling for years.

“Now” is the 2012 edition of the Orioles, competing hard every night, winning more games than they’re losing and looking more and more like a team that will play September baseball that counts.

So will people fill the ballpark after Labor Day when the Birds square off against the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays and Red Sox to finish the campaign and, perhaps, decide their post-season fate?

Your guess is as good as mine.

The numbers this season, with the team winning a lot of games, haven’t necessarily improved enough to put any direct correlation between being better ON the field and having more people in the stands.  The statistics say their average attendance is up about 23%.  Some of that could be attributed to winning, of course.  Some of it, I assume, is connected to the Hall of Fame statue series they’ve done this season, one of the club’s better and most impressive public relations efforts in a long time.  But the “why?” isn’t all that important.  “Why?” are only about 4,000 additional fans coming back to the ballpark so far this season?  Who cares, really?  If more people are showing up, that’s a good thing, even if they’re showing up mainly for a free t-shirt or a bobblehead or to hear Eddie Murray speak.

But for a team tasting winning for the first time in 15 seasons, a bump in attendance from 21,000 to 25,000 per-game can hardly be considered massive.

I’ll say it again, though.

None of it matters.  None of the stuff I just chronicled REALLY matters, now, because what lies ahead is the only thing the club should be worried about as August starts to wind down.

The marketing and sales folks at The Warehouse should be thinking about one thing:  “How do we get people to come to the games in September and fill the stadium so we might create a homefield advantage for ourselves in games that are really important?”

That’s it.

That’s the question.

Here’s one answer that isn’t legitimate.

“As long as we’re winning, they’ll come back.”

Wrong, I’m afraid.

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