Faced with direct competition for the first time in 33 years, the Orioles will put single-game tickets on sale Dec. 11 - nearly two months earlier than they did last offseason.
In addition, the team will not raise ticket prices for 2005.
"We know that there's a different situation 30 miles south of here," Matt Dryer, Orioles senior director of advertising and promotions, said yesterday. "We really don't know what to expect ticket-wise from that. Bottom line, we are buttoned-up, we are ready to roll. We feel very confident in our marketing plan."
The recently relocated and rechristened Washington Nationals begin play April 14 at RFK Stadium. Because Major League Baseball didn't announce the move of the former Montreal Expos until Sept. 29, Nationals officials have been scrambling to hire staff, deal with getting RFK into shape, strike a radio deal and, oh yes, start the ticket-selling process.
As of yesterday, the Nationals had collected $300 non-refundable deposits for about 16,000 full season tickets - the only plan on sale so far. Team officials said they hope to announce plans for selling partial season tickets this month and their plan for groups and single-game ticket sales by Jan. 1.
"The Orioles have to be cognizant of competition in the marketplace that never existed before," said Marc Ganis, president of the Chicago-based consulting firm Sportscorp. "I suspect that this and other changes will ensue to try and help them compete with the Washington team."
Ganis, who said he has always believed a team in Washington would have a significant impact on the Orioles, indicated those changes might include modified ticket pricing or adding amenities for premium ticket buyers. But he doesn't see the competition as ultimately benefiting the fans.
"The downside is that the Orioles will lose substantial resources to be able to field a better team," he said.
Last season, without the prod of competition, the Orioles didn't set their ticket prices until the last week in January, and individual game seats didn't go on sale until Feb. 7.
At the time, the Orioles attributed the delay to the process of bringing their ticketing operation in-house.
Dryer said the Orioles are using the extra time to provide better customer service.
"Already, all of our reps are calling each of our season-ticket holders, making sure they are happy with their seats, if they want to move, if they want to upgrade, if they want to buy more seats, if they want to change plans," he said. "That's something we really didn't have a lot of time to do last year."
According to Dryer, Orioles owner Peter Angelos decided after the season that ticket prices would not be raised for 2005.
In 2004, the Orioles increased attendance nearly 12 percent from 2003, drawing 2.75 million to Camden Yards for 80 dates, an average of 34,375. That increase, over 2003's 2.45 million, was the fifth-largest in team history.
Dryer said that, at this point, it's impossible to measure what effect the Nationals will have on Baltimore's ticket sales. But, he said, the Orioles couldn't afford to squander their head start.
"It's not my job, it's not our department's job to worry about that," he said. "It's up to us to make sure that we're buttoned up, to take care of ourselves."