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Did The Orioles Cost Themselves By Waiting To Send Season-Ticket Renewal Information?

March 16, 2016
So it's the first of February, and you haven't received your season-ticket renewal information from the Orioles.

That can't be good news, you think. Ticket prices must surely be going up -- it's just a question of how much. After all, the O's had just signed first baseman Chris Davis to the richest contract in team history -- a seven-year, $161 million deal. They also spent big bucks to keep two other potential free agents: catcher Matt Wieters for one year and $15.8 million and reliever Darren O'Day for four years and $31 million.

Should you be worried?

Actually, former team executive Marty Conway, now a professor of sports management at Georgetown University, said he thinks it's the Orioles who should be worried.

Conway said the team might have left as much as $5 million on the table by not getting season-ticket invoices out well before Feb. 9, which is when the O's announced prices for 2016.

"It seems quite clear ... that would be a negative impact to the sales process because it condenses it," said Conway, who worked for the O's from 1985-1992, with his last job being vice president of marketing. 

"What about the people who buy season tickets?" Conway said. "Now do they have just six weeks to pay for them before the season starts? In the past, they've had three or four months, sometimes longer -- they're on payment plans with interest, sometimes with no interest. 

"It all comes together because of the unique nature of selling tickets to baseball because of the number of games that you have. That doesn't replicate itself in football or even hockey or basketball because you have twice as many home dates. There's a lot more inventory to move."

Orioles executive vice president John Angelos, as one might imagine, has a different view than Conway.

Angelos said he doesn't think that four weeks one way or another matters to the team.

"It's a long season. And there's a very long sales cycle," he said. "And part of the sales cycle is the up-front sale, and part of it is group sales, and part of it is individual sales. 

"The invoicing for Orioles season tickets has been at many points in the calendar over the last 23 years. And there is no one set time. I just don't think it's of any moment."

Angelos did agree with Conway that baseball is a "high-volume" sport.

"Football and the arena sports are lower-volume, high-price point businesses," Angelos said. "That's why baseball is so affordable to families and people on a budget. We're a high-volume business, and we keep our prices low in order to drive that volume.

"The function of season tickets is, when you have a high-volume sport, you need to have an up-front. You've got to sell a lot of tickets up front. But you never want to sell all of your tickets up front."

The Orioles are behind other teams in the region, though. Both the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies had single-game tickets for the regular season on sale on their websites by mid- to late February. The Orioles began selling single-game tickets March 9. And the Phillies sent 2016 invoices to their season-ticket holders from last year in mid-October.

Conway did praise the Orioles for keeping ticket prices as low as possible. According to a study by the trade publication Team Marketing Report, the Orioles will have the ninth-lowest cost for a family of four to attend a game out of all 122 teams in professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

The Orioles' highest-priced season ticket -- field boxes and club boxes -- averages $59.44 per game based on 81 home dates. Their lowest-priced season ticket, upper reserved, averages $16.44 per game. 

The Nationals have five price levels higher than the O's top price, including their Presidents Seats, which average $320 per ticket in a full-season plan (and $370 per game if bought individually). The Nationals do have seats that average $15 per game on a season basis.

Conway, though, said that because of the success of the other teams in the American League East, Orioles fans want to see World Series, AL and division championships.

"The affordability message is nice, but I don't know that that drives the last 20 percent of your sales -- to go from 2.3 million to 2.5 million or 2.6 million," Conway said.

Angelos said the most important factor in any team's attendance is what kind of team it's able to field and what it's able to pay its players.
And the most important factor in determining that is competitive balance and an equal opportunity to compete.

"The more balanced a league is, the more it is going to be capable of driving higher and higher attendance rates league-wide," he said. 

"We have a $300 million payroll for one team, a $60 million payroll for another team and a whole bunch of payroll points along a very crooked graph line in between," Angelos added. "Because of that lack of parity and competitive balance, in baseball you have hard choices that many teams have to make as to who they sign and how they sign them and how they pay for it because the market price for players in baseball is set by a handful of teams at the top, who have a much better chance to compete and win, but that price has to be absorbed by teams at the middle and lower tiers."

Issue 219: March 2016