When the Orioles take the field for opening day next month, Camden Yards will reopen at 25% of the stadium’s capacity — a self-imposed restriction stricter than new state rules, team officials announced Friday.
The team said it will host approximately 11,000 fans to begin the season, with all attendees required to wear masks covering their face and nose at all times except when eating or drinking at their assigned seats. The capacity percentage may be revised upward as the public health outlook changes, according to the team.
“The long-awaited return of fans is the result of successful nationwide and organizational efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, increase vaccination access for millions of Americans, and strengthen our economy by bringing employees back to work,” said John Angelos, the team’s chairman and CEO, in a statement. “Just as we did in 2020, the Orioles will remain vigilant in our efforts and will continue to consult medical experts every step of the way as we invite fans back to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to enjoy another successful baseball season.”
To implement proper social distancing in what will be a “pod seating” format with groups of two, four or six fans seated together at least 6 feet apart from other fans, the Orioles said they will immediately begin reseating their Birdland Membership holders. They will be notified by email of changes to their seats, the team said.
Once that process is completed, the team will announce how it will proceed with single-game tickets for all games except the April 8 home opener. Those tickets will be reserved for Birdland members, a special group of multi-game ticket-holders, the team said.
“The Orioles play a critical role in our road map to recovery and the team’s dedication to the safety of our community is what will allow us to take that first step in welcoming fans back into the ballpark,” Hogan said in a statement. “We will work closely with the Orioles to ensure the proper guidelines are in place for fans to safely enjoy America’s favorite pastime and educate fans on the importance of getting vaccinated.”
Scott issued new rules Friday maintaining the city’s stricter approach to reopening even as other jurisdictions followed Hogan’s lead.
“Sustaining the health and safety of Baltimore residents is my number one priority, but achieving this requires an all-hands-on-deck effort,” Scott said in a statement. “I am grateful to have the Baltimore Orioles as a trusted partner as our community works tirelessly to control the spread of COVID-19. The Orioles have been a part of our community for decades, and I am confident that the organization will protect the health of their fans by following the safety guidelines set forth by the City of Baltimore, State of Maryland, and Major League Baseball.”
The Orioles’ plan required the blessing of Major League Baseball, as well as Baltimore City, before the team could outline what the year would look like. It already had submitted a plan for around 25% capacity before Hogan’s announcement, though it mapped out several scenarios internally for how to safely fit fans inside Camden Yards at several higher capacity limits. Those could prove useful as the season progresses.
The Maryland Stadium Authority, which owns Camden Yards, and the state health department also weighed in on safety plans, Hogan said earlier this week.
MLB’s guidelines specify spacing of 6 feet between each group of fans, with tickets sold in pods of two, four or six. However, the Texas Rangers’ announcement Wednesday that they’ll allow full capacity at their new 40,518-seat Globe Life Park means those might just be recommended guidelines.
Most MLB teams have announced plans to allow some fans, with as many as 21,363 (42.6% capacity) permitted at Coors Field in Colorado to as few as 1,000 at Comerica Park in Detroit.
The Washington Nationals have been approved to play in Nationals Park for the 2021 season, but the District of Columbia has not yet approved fans in the stadium.
Camden Yards holds 46,971 at capacity, though the team only announced one sellout in 2019: the home opener against the New York Yankees. Attendance was buoyed by visits from the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but the average of 16,146 was the second-worst in the American League and lowest since the stadium opened at Camden Yards in 1992. Thirteen home dates had fewer than 10,000 tickets sold.
The coronavirus has severely restricted public sporting events in Baltimore since cases were first reported in the city a year ago. Fans were not permitted inside the Camden Yards, or at any MLB ballpark, during a shortened 60-game 2020 season that began in July. Across the MLB, spectators were allowed in reduced capacity at postseason games and the World Series to close out 2020.
In November, state and city officials allowed Ravens fans at one game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. City officials allowed fewer fans at M&T Bank Stadium than the state’s 10% capacity limit, and ultimately 4,345 fans attended the game. Plans for fans to attend games in the rest of the season were abandoned as COVID-19 cases spiked.
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As MLB gears up for the 2021 season, fans have been allowed in limited capacity at spring training sites in Florida and Arizona.
At the Orioles’ spring training home in Sarasota, Florida, Ed Smith Stadium is operating at 25% capacity. Tickets were sold in groups of two and four, with seats in between the groups zip-tied closed to prevent groups from mixing. Fans were required to wear masks while moving around the stadium and could only remove them while eating or drinking at their seats.
Tickets quickly sold out for the Orioles’ 14-game home spring training schedule once they went on sale to the general public.
“It’s huge for us,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said Friday. “It’s huge for our players, coaches. It’s great to have fans in the stands for spring training games, and we’re looking forward to seeing the home fans back at Camden Yards this summer. They bring us a lot of energy. They create a great environment for us. It’s exciting times, it’s exciting news to know that there’s going to be people in the stands this summer.”