Competitive costs: O's boost tickets Baseball: After a year with no increase, fans will pay 19 percent more for seats at Camden Yards in 1997.


The Orioles yesterday announced a sweeping 19 percent ticket price increase for next season that will push an average ticket above $15, more than twice what the team charged before moving to Camden Yards four years ago.

Virtually every category of seats will be affected, from a $5 standing-room-only ticket that cost $3 this past season to a field box seat that will be $25, up from $20. The team did not raise prices last year.

Orioles officials chalked up the increase to the demands of winning. The team, which had the second-highest payroll in baseball in 1996, came agonizingly close to an American League pennant. It lost the league championship series to the New York Yankees.

"It's just a necessary component of business operations today," said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss. "No business looks forward to increasing prices and passing it on to the consumers, whether it's the restaurant business or the newspaper business. But that's the reality of business today.

"It's not something we look forward to doing," Foss said.

An average ticket next year, excluding the pricey club seats that require an annual fee, will be $15.63, compared with $13.14 this year. About three-quarters of the tickets are going up $2, but some will increase by as much as $5.

A family of four attending a game will pay $62.52 for tickets next season, up about $10.

The Orioles -- who say they lost more than $5 million in 1996 despite being one of the highest revenue-drawing teams in baseball -- will net about $8 million more through the price increase. The team also recently signed a new local television contract that will bring in an estimated $16 million a year, triple the expiring contract.

The two moves should alleviate the strain of a free-agent spending spree. The Orioles had the second-highest payroll in baseball this year, and have continued to spend in the off-season.

A number of long-term sponsorships were also up for renegotiation this year, boosting the figures further. The team is also demanding concessions on its lease with the state, saying it is owed a rent decrease to remain in line with what the state is charging the Ravens.

But the team faces a luxury tax on its payroll as specified in the new labor contract with players.

Foss said the team's investors, including managing partner Peter Angelos, have not received any dividends since Angelos assembled the group and bought the team in 1993.

The ticket price increase is in line with what other baseball teams are doing, said Sean Brenner, editor of Team Marketing Report, a newsletter that tracks sports ticket prices.

"I don't think it's unusual, especially considering the Orioles did not raise prices from 1995 to '96," Brenner said.

Brenner said some small-market teams, like the Montreal Expos and Pittsburgh Pirates, are actually cutting ticket prices. Others, like the Milwaukee Brewers, are raising some seats, but only between $1 to $2.

"Not that the fans aren't paying attention to prices, but, to a certain extent, fans will continue to pay that price for the Orioles, just because it's the hottest ticket in town," Brenner said.

In 1996, the Orioles had the fifth-most-expensive ticket price in baseball. (Major-league averages for next season aren't available.) The Orioles' average ticket sold for $7.59 in the last season at Memorial Stadium (1991), second lowest in baseball.

Financial World magazine, in its annual estimate of sports team finances, ranked the team second only to the Yankees in revenues. But the average Oriole earned $1.7 million last year, more than 50 percent higher than the baseball average.

Foss said the Orioles suffered an operating loss of more than $4 million this season.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College and author of "Baseball and Billions," a book about baseball economics, said teams in new stadiums generally impose the stiffest price increases.

The reason is simple supply and demand: The new homes draw more fans who are willing to pay the price, he said.

"As long as Angelos is selling out Camden Yards, he is going to push the envelope. At some point, the bell will go off, and consumers will say enough is enough," Zimbalist said.

In the meantime, the higher prices will further push baseball out of the reach of many lower- and middle-income fans, further "gentrifying" the sport, he said.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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