The Orioles, in a move expected for weeks, have announced && major ticket-price increases for next year that will add $1 to $5 to the price of more than 85 percent of the 48,938 seats at Camden Yards.
The increases mean that fans with some of the best seats in the house -- 6,345 lower box seats between first and third bases -- now will pay $20 for their tickets, an increase of $5 from last year, and $7 higher than when the gates opened at the downtown ballpark in 1992.
Prices also are going up for lower boxes beyond the bases ($3 more), terrace boxes ($2) and upper reserved seats ($1).
Even the 1,888 bleacher seats, favorites among bargain hunters, are being boosted a buck, to $5.
The only tickets not hit with an increase are $25 club-level seats. Stadium parking for season-ticket customers will be unchanged at $5.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos said he expects the club's move to be unpopular among many ticket buyers, particularly in light of the three-month-old players strike that shut down the baseball season in August, canceling the World Series.
But Mr. Angelos said an increase was justified to recoup $15 million in strike-related losses, and because his ownership group didn't boost prices last season.
"Obviously, it's not the most opportune time to raise ticket prices," Mr. Angelos said. "But we simply had no other way to go. Obviously, the financial viability of the club must be maintained for the purpose of giving Orioles fans a No. 1 baseball club. It's certainly not being done for the purposes of generating substantial profits for investors."
Still, some fans seemed stung by the increases.
"After 25 years, I guess I've had it," said Stanley Davis of Pikesville, who has been on the Orioles' season-ticket rolls since 1970.
Mr. Davis, 66, said his first thoughts were to cancel his tickets or sell them to a friend who has been eager for his prime seats.
"I've been a staunch supporter, but I'm just annoyed with ownership, players and everyone else," he said.
Jim Erickson, 30, whose seats are right behind the Orioles' dugout, wasn't ready to go that far.
"Five bucks is a pretty steep increase. But I'm spoiled with those seats, I guess," said the Baltimore resident.
Mr. Erickson said he and the three friends who share the seats probably will renew. "I'll ride with what everyone else does," he said.
The timing of the price increase didn't please fans, either. Players and owners appear far apart in their bargaining talks.
"[The strike] does give you reason for pause, but I can't say it will radically change anything," said Steve Brennan, a commercial real-estate broker from Phoenix. His company has four seats on the first-base side.
"With all the uncertainty, it's hard to see how you can justify [a price increase] in a business sense," he said. "But, obviously the Orioles feel this is something they must do."
Orioles officials don't discount the chance that annoyance over the higher prices, combined with the angst brought on by the strike, could cause even some of their hard-core fans to cancel their season tickets. The club caps the sale of those tickets at 27,500.
"That may very well happen in individual cases," Mr. Angelos said, "though I don't expect there will be be substantial numbers of fans who will not renew."
But available seats, particularly in prime locations, figure to be snapped up quickly by customers on the club's season-ticket waiting list. That list now has 13,000 names, said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss.
The new ticket prices should mean sharply higher revenue for the team next year. Mr. Foss said the team was projecting that net ticket revenues would increase by $5 million. (The net figure is what's left after the Orioles pay admission tax and visiting team and American League shares). Before the players' strike, club officials had projected overall net ticket revenue for 1994 of $29.4 million.
The Orioles aren't the only one of the 28 teams in Major League Baseball to announce they are raising ticket prices next year. The Colorado Rockies and New York Yankees are doing it, too.
Two weeks ago, the Yankees announced they intend to create a luxury seating area at Yankee Stadium, complete with cushioned seats and waiter service. Tickets for those seats -- clustered behind home plate -- will go up $8, to $25. The Rockies unveiled an entirely new pricing schedule timed to their move next April into the new Coors Field in Denver.
Other clubs generally have been cautious about going to their fans for more money, in part because of fan resentment over the strike-shortened season. The San Francisco Giants aren't changing their prices. And the Kansas City Royals are rolling back theirs, cutting general admission seats at Kauffman Stadium by $1.
The announcement of higher ticket prices at Camden Yards comes after months of discussion among club officials, led by Mr. Angelos. The Orioles considered several plans during that time, including one to create three different categories of lower-box seats between the bases. The choicest seats, in the first few rows, would have been $25 apiece. Other box seats would have been $22 and $20.
Mr. Angelos acknowledged considering the plan, but said club officials ultimately decided on an alternative that he called "simpler and more equitable."
The Orioles are slightly behind schedule in sending out renewal notices to their season-ticket customers. Those notices, which usually go out in late October or early November, should be in the mail within the next two weeks, Mr. Foss predicted.
The sale of individual game tickets also will be delayed. Those tickets, which were on sale in early December last year, will be held back for an undetermined time.
Such details wouldn't seem to matter that much to Mr. Davis, the disgruntled season-ticket customer. The way he is talking, his days as a regular at Orioles games appear to be over.
"My wife and kids, they always kid me that whatever they raise the prices to, I'll pay," Mr. Davis said. "But sometimes, there comes a limit. This is it."
Highest-priced tickets for each of the 28 Major League Baseball teams last season. This chart does not include luxury box seats or other tickets for luxury seating.
Chicago Cubs $18.11
Chicago White Sox $18
Kansas City $14
Los Angeles $15
Montreal $18.38 (U.S.)
N.Y. Mets $15
N.Y. Yankees $17
St. Louis $14
San Diego $11
San Francisco $19.50
Toronto $16.91 (U.S.)