Baltimore Orioles: The ballpark experience


Yesterday for the first time since March 30th, the Baltimore Orioles were off. But don’t worry; the Birds are back in action tonight back at the yard against Toronto! In monitoring the first two weeks of league play, 0ne thing across Major League Baseball that’s struck me is that there have been a few complaints about the experience at the ballpark. The O’s have only played three games at home to this point, however I think that most people around here would agree that fans know what they’re getting when they buy a ticket to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Overall, I think that most fans would agree that not only is the in-game experience good in Baltimore, but that it’s gotten better.

But in reading various columns and even fan boards, I see a general level of contempt from fans across the league when they go to MLB games. Whether it’s long lines at the concession stands, bathrooms, ticket windows, etc., customer service issues, or anything else, it appears that teams are doing a better job of getting under fans’ skin. So what gives? What should be done about this, and/or what can be done?

This is always a tough sell because people come at this type of thing from different vantage points. However one common denominator I’ve seen in fan complaints is long lines at concession stands. Those types of things are universally seen as bad. Part of the problem is that many teams/vendor companies can’t accurately predict what their attendance is going to be game in and game out. It’s easy enough to say that attendance is going to be lower in months such as April or September, or higher in general on weekends. However it’s very difficult to gauge what kind of walk-up crowd a game is going to draw. So if they’re expecting 15K and the game ends up drawing a huge walk-up crowd, odds are that staffing levels at concession stands, souvenir shops, etc. will be lower than necessary which will provide for longer waits.

Unfortunately the age of the game itself being the only draw is probably over. For so many years fans would flock to Memorial Stadium – just to watch the game. But now with the concept of the “ballpark experience,” people look for more than that. Again, for the most part I think that the Orioles do a good job with this. Whether you’re a casual fan or a die hard, one thing that is necessary is customer service. And I’m not talking about someone having to wait 20 minutes for a hot dog, I’m referring more to just the overall attitude of the workers at the park. If ushers are rude or cop attitudes with fans, it’s going to dissuade people from coming back. Granted when you’re dealing with the general public that’s not always easy, however believe it or not that might well be the easiest part of improving the ballpark experience.

Going back to lines at the concession stands for a moment, many of the newer parks actually have open concourses now (Nationals Park in Washington, along with Harbor Park in Norfolk – home of the Orioles’ triple-A team – are two examples). While it’s not perfect, that might help to alleviate some of the “pain” for fans associated with missing part of the game. Granted I remember when it was novel to have televisions or the radio feed pipped into the concourse, however the fact is that’s no longer good enough. Fans pay to see the game in person, not on TV in the concourse area.

Courtesy of Bob DeChiara-US PRESSWIRE

Ultimately teams probably need to take a look at how their gameday experience operates across the board. It’s also worthwhile for executives to take in games as fans at other parks, just to see if they can catch onto things that other teams are doing and so forth. This is not to say that doesn’t already happen, however it’s not a bad idea. I say all of this fully recognizing that in some cases people’s perceptions can be based on things beyond the team or anyone else’s control. I’ve heard fans in other sports complainin that “the [insert team name] need to do something about the construction on the roads outside the stadium. That makes it much more difficult to get to the game.” Common sense people. Having said that, attitudes as such just illustrate why teams need to do their best to perfect things that they can control.

The Orioles return home tonight to open up a six-game homestand with Toronto in for the weekend. Buck Showalter reshuffled his rotation a bit, which he was able to do given the team’s off day yesterday. Chris Tillman will get the start tonight on normal rest following his gem of a game last Sunday in Detroit. He’ll be opposed by Dustin McGowan of Toronto. The hope is that J.J. Hardy will be back in the lineup tonight after missing four games with neck spasms.