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Formula for a full house

The biggest crowd in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards was:

a) Its first opening day in 1992.

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b) The night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak in 1995.

c) Ripken's farewell game in 2001.

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d) A sultry Tuesday night with a severe storm warning in effect and the Orioles mired in last place after a disappointing road trip.

If you choose (d), you're right: The Orioles drew 49,696 fans for Tuesday's home stand opener against the New York Yankees - the largest paid crowd since the downtown baseball stadium opened. As the baseball philosopher Casey Stengel once said, you can look it up.

"There's no way to predict that a Tuesday night game is going to be your biggest night," said Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka.

Tuesday's game surpassed the previous record set June 28, 2003, when 147 fewer people came to see the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Orioles in what was the Orioles' longest game in innings - 17 - in nearly 30 years.

Tuesday's crowd also ranked ahead of the 44,568 for the first Opening Day; the 46,012 who saw Ripken eclipse the 2,131 streak; the 47,683 at opening night this season against the Boston Red Sox, and 48,807 who saw Ripken's finale in 2001.

During the seasons at Camden Yards, 42 games have drawn more than 48,000 fans. Nearly all of those - 37 - fell on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. So why, for the home team, was this Fat Tuesday?

The answer is a study in creative marketing, stadium accounting and, alas, the dreaded "Yankee effect."

Tuesday was the first time the Orioles had included a coveted Yankees game in its Junior Orioles Dugout Club promotion. The team has long offered families a bargain plan to get upper-level seats for kids, as well as a baseball cap and a few other souvenirs, as part of its Dugout Club membership. Children can get a free ticket to the game; their family and friends can get tickets for $5 apiece.

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Historically, baseball teams offer promotions and giveaways for games against less attractive opponents that they don't expect to draw well. In fact, some teams in recent years have begun charging extra for their most coveted dates, such as on weekends or against teams with superstars.

But the Orioles threw a marketing curveball Tuesday that turned out well. A line of hundreds of people waited to exchange Dugout Club vouchers for tickets before the game.

About a hundred fans were turned away with the promise of vouchers to a future game and 200 more were allowed in on a standing-room-only basis. The Orioles made 8,000 seats available for the Dugout Club, most of the upper deck in left field and more than twice as many as normal for that type of promotion. Some kid members were accompanied by as many as 20 guests, Stetka said.

"It's rare that we would offer a Yankee game," Stetka said. "You don't want to load up on either weeknights or the so-called unpopular teams. We want to give them a mix of weekends and good games."

But sports marketing experts said teams are seeing the value of using discounts programs to draw people to occasional popular dates on their schedule, when the opportunity to build fan loyalty is at a peak.

"You should always find ways to incorporate limited discounts into some of the popular games," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "That's when the stadium is at its best. The stadium is full and there's a lot of excitement. It's the best time to win potential new customers."

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The attendance number is also a product of the way it is calculated. Tuesday's game included about 8,000 bargain-priced tickets, but not as many complimentary tickets as the team might distribute for the season opener or a milestone game such as Ripken's farewell. Those free tickets aren't counted in the paid attendance total. So even though more people were actually in Camden Yards for those games, Tuesday's attendance registered as larger.

The seating capacity at Camden Yards is also slightly larger this season, with a few hundred seats added behind home plate. While the Orioles do add temporary bleacher seating in the right-field flag court for certain big games, those added seats are offset in the attendance count by the free tickets distributed for those games.

Beyond the new math, the new Yankees also had something to do with Tuesday's record.

The Yankees have always drawn well at Camden Yards, with their huge fan base and New York four hours or less up Interstate 95. But the team appears to have become even more alluring since adding third-baseman Alex Rodriguez, considered by many the best player in baseball.

The Texas Rangers, A-Rod's former team, has dropped to 29th in attendance from fourth when Rodriguez played for them last year, according to HVS International, a Chicago company that conducts market studies on sports facilities. That, in spite of the fact the Rangers are winning more games this season,

"The Yankees are the biggest draw on the road this year," said Paul Sajovec, HVS senior vice president. "You add [Rodriguez] to a team that's already made up of All-Stars and that's an incredibly attractive team."

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For all the damaging news about steroid investigations, baseball continues to rejuvenate itself in the decade since a labor dispute canceled the '94 season. Attendance is up more than 12 percent this year compared with last season.


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