5:15 PM EDT, March 16, 2012
The Orioles fans who have started a campaign to get the team and the Maryland Stadium Authority to approve tailgate parties before games at Oriole Park are – no doubt – just looking for a way to spice up their ballpark experience, but it’s not going to happen and there are plenty of good reasons why it shouldn’t.
Team officials, who already have nixed the idea, will point to the liability issues that come with allowing drinking in the parking lot, and no one should be surprised that would be a big factor for a team owned by one of the most famous trial lawyers in the country. If that was the only argument against loosening the rules for fan behavior on ballpark grounds, it would be easy enough to point to the Ravens and say that they don’t seem to have a problem with it for 10 or 11 Sundays every year.
But the reason that tailgating works in a football environment and hasn’t caught on in baseball (with a few exceptions) is because of the different nature of the sports and their respective schedules.
The costs of cleaning up the parking lots after each Ravens game are significant, but they are only incurred a few times per year and almost all the games take place in the daytime on non-weekdays. The Orioles play 81 home games, most of them at night and most of them on weekdays, so most season ticket holders arrive within an hour or so of the game. Changing the entire parking and cleanup routine for the relatively few fans who can show up several hours early to party would make attending the game more difficult for the team’s most loyal fans, and would be expensive and impractical.
It also would change the atmosphere in the ballpark, since a lot of those tailgating fans would show up in the stadium intoxicated.
That happens at M&T Bank Stadium, but that’s where the difference in atmosphere plays a big role. Football is a highly aggressive sport that carries the fans along with the momentum of the game. There are always a few idiots in the stands, but all the seats are assigned to the same fans for every game, so there is some accountability for poor behavior.
Baseball is a slow-moving game with plenty of time in between pitches and innings for drunk fans to get bored and belligerant. There’s also little game-to-game accountability for walk-up and out-of-town fans (and you know who you are).
If you want to take the issue in an economic direction that does not affect the team, consider the impact of tailgating on the already beleaguered businesses around Oriole Park, which have suffered mightily from the steady decline in interest in the team over the past 14 years. If you want to eat and drink before Orioles games, there are plenty of bars and restaurants that badly need your business to preserve the charac ter of the area around the stadium.