Baltimore Orioles: Gameday experience done right in MLB


Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Jim Johnson will represent the Orioles in tonight’s MLB all-star game in Kansas City. Hopefully we’ll all be tuning in on FOX this evening, and with the way that the first half unfolded perhaps Oriole fans will have a bit more of a rooting interest given that if the season ended today the Birds would be in the playoffs. (Keep in mind that the league that wins the all-star game gets home field advantage in the world series.) However outside of Kansas City, there’s very little baseball news of which to report right now…so I’m trying to get inventive in my topics.

It came to my attention last week that the NFL is easing it’s blackout rules for the upcoming 2012 season.  Teams will now only need to sell 85% of the general admission ticket inventory in their stadium in order for that week’s game to be televised in the home market. In the mid-Atlantic region we have two NFL teams (the Ravens and the Washington Redskins), neither of which has ever been affected by the blackout rules because they sell out every game. However that’s not the case in places such as Jacksonville, Tampa, and Buffalo, who sometimes struggle to sell out games. (For what it’s worth, Jacksonville might struggle to get blackouts lifted with the 85% rule.) In reading about this, I came across this piece from a Pittsburgh Steeler fan site (I know that’s not the most popular team in Baltimore but I felt this was well written and it gets the point across).

While wins and losses are certainly important to attendance in any sport, that article seems to indicate that the gameday experience is now a bit more important. Being a Washington Redskins season ticket holder and having attended a few Ravens games as well, I’d tend to believe that the Ravens have one of the best gameday experiences in the NFL. The Redskins…not so much (but I do believe it’s getting better and I think that reports of how horrible it is are a bit overblown). However the article also mentions that it isn’t just the actual stadium experience about which people seem to care; it’s getting to and from the game as well. So why is this relevant to baseball and to the Orioles?

My point here is not to put MLB into a match of family feud with the NFL. I love the NFL, and I love football; I have no urge to beat it down. However I do feel that the “gameday experience” is something that baseball has always done right. In fairness, there’s probably a more relaxed atmosphere at baseball games first off because they occur largely during summertime. Secondly each city gets ten football games a year (counting preseason), not including potential playoff games. That means that when the games roll around people tend to treat them more like “events” than anything else. That’s possibly one of the reasons why we see so many drunks getting out of control at games.

With regard to getting to the games, neither Orioles or Ravens fans should complain. Camden Yards/M & T Bank Stadium are very easily accessible by roads or light rail, as is Nationals Park. If you read the article I linked you’ll see a detailed description of the hoops the author had to jump through to get to a Minnesota Vikings game. In this age where products are measured by every degree imaginable, that does make a difference. The transportation issues obviously vary city-by-city, and in fact the teams themselves might not have a lot of control over that. (DC is a perfect example; people blame owner Daniel Snyder for the traffic problems from the moment they leave home until they get back from the games.) Yet they’re still being held accountable for them in the sense that attendance is going down.

If the city’s transportation system is lackluster odds are it’s going to affect the baseball team as well. However again keep in mind that baseball’s a summer game so people are generally a little more laid back. Here’s the other thing that could affect both leagues: Direct TV. With the Extra Innings or Sunday Ticket packages, people can literally watch every game in the league on any given day/week. If you don’t have Extra Innings, you can go to most local watering holes and see every game because most bars have that package. Even if you don’t want to watch every game, the TV viewing experience has gotten so much better over the years. I know people that have theater-style viewing setups in their homes; why would they want to buy a ticket to a game when they can watch it like that?

I would submit that wins and losses still mean more to attendance than anything else in all sports. Look at the Washington Capitals of the NHL as an example. However again, baseball games have always been more fan-friendly. From my perch I observed Jim Thome signing autographs for fans last week in his first game as an Oriole at Camden Yards. Many players do that; how often do NFL players sign autographs like that for people in the stands? Baseball is also legendary for it’s giveaways. This coming Sunday is hat day at Camden Yards, and the first 20K fans will get a free cap. I remember going to Redskin games at RFK Stadium as a kid and sometimes they’d have giveaways, but I don’t see that so much at NFL games anymore. Plus baseball has the built-in free souvenir of game-used balls going into the stands. My point is not to knock the NFL, because as I said I love football. However I do feel that baseball does a better job all-around when it comes to the overall “gameday experience.” If you’re asking would I ever give up my own tickets for any of the above-mentioned things…NO!

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