Billy Joel to hold first concert in Camden Yards history

The Orioles, seeking to maximize their lease on one of baseball’s most popular stadiums, are breaking with more than 25 years of team tradition by holding a concert at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 26 featuring singer Billy Joel.

The longtime baseball-only venue will join other iconic ballparks such as Boston’s Fenway Park, Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium that have sought to capitalize on their cachet — and make money — in recent years by hosting concerts.

Thursday’s announcement marked the beginning of a partnership between Orioles Entertainment and the concert promoter Live Nation, one that Orioles executive vice president John Angelos said was years in the making and will add Camden Yards to the local stable of concert venues.

“Over the last 27 years, the public-private relationship between the state of Maryland and the Orioles has been a strong one,” Angelos said. “This has been a robust and strong, wonderful public-private partnership, and the opportunity now is to take it to the next step.”

The concert marks a reversal of more than two decades of tradition at Camden Yards under the team’s ownership by the Angelos family . Two years after the ballpark opened in 1992, the Maryland Stadium Authority tried to book a concert with Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones for the summer of 1994 just after Peter Angelos — John’s father — bought the team, but he rebuffed them.

The elder Angelos expressed concern over the years about the potential effect of concerts on the field, and doubted whether the economics made sense. He told The Sun in 2000 that he was "not going to have it become some kind of honky tonk for various and sundry rock 'n' roll bands."

The economics now seem to make more sense to John and Lou Angelos, Peter’s sons who have taken more control of the team’s day-to-day operations amid their 89-year-old father’s health struggles.

Despite Camden Yards’ popularity, the Orioles saw attendance wane last year — hitting a 40-year low — as the team posted the worst record in baseball last season.

Concerts and other events could generate revenue to make up for lost ticket sales.

John Angelos is also a music fan. In a 2017 Q&A with the Perfect Game Foundation posted online, he said that “my favorite songwriter is Margaret Valentine, who is also my wife.” Valentine is a Nashville songwriter and singer. Angelos told the website his other favorites included Joel, Neko Case, Shirley Bassey, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Neil Young and many more.

“This is a perfect marriage of baseball and live music,” John Angelos said Thursday.

Any proceeds from the concert would be split with the Maryland Stadium Authority, the ballpark’s landlord. The authority has the right to “opt-in” or “opt-out” of the Billy Joel concert once the Orioles submit a formal request, said David Raith, the authority’s chief financial officer. The authority, he said, is likely to opt in for Billy Joel at Camden Yards just as it has for every event the Ravens have held at neighboring M&T Bank Stadium, including Joel’s concert there in 2015.

“We typically opt in to events because of the economic benefit to the stadium authority and the state,” Raith said. “It’s not only the revenue that’s being collected at the facility, it’s also all of the outside taxes generated when you have people coming in from other states and spending a night in a hotel.”

Under the terms of the lease for such events, the team and the authority will split all revenue and expenses equally, after the entertainer’s take.

Raith said Billy Joel’s 2015 concert at M&T was “a very successful event” that drew 37,500 people, though it has a capacity of over 71,000.

“I think we’d expect the same kind of attendance and the same revenue,” he said.

Revenue includes ticket sales, concessions, parking and merchandising, while event expenses would include security, personnel costs, setup and other costs. In addition to event revenue, the stadium authority gets 80 percent of the ticket admission tax, which is 10 percent of the admission price, with the other 20 percent going to the city. Raith estimated conservatively that a Billy Joel concert would bring in at least $350,000 for the state, including both profit from the event and admission tax.

“This shows that Oriole Park now is in the concert game, which they had historically not been in the past,” Raith said. “This market has always been attractive. Promoters like to come to Camden Yards,” because of the nearby hotels and restaurants and ability to quickly move people in and out.

The red-brick ballpark’s retro design and urban location were immediate hits with fans when it opened in 1992, transforming how big league baseball fields are built. The stadium authority and the club have been working in recent years to better capitalize on the stadium's appeal, in part by creating more activity around the park on non-game days.

That’s happened elsewhere. Dodger Stadium has hosted Joel, Wrigley Field has hosted James Taylor and the Zac Brown Band, and Fenway Park has staged Taylor, Pearl Jam and Dead & Company.

In recent years, the club has done everything short of stage a concert at the ballpark in terms of planting its flag in the music scene. The team has hosted several country music fundraisers at its spring training home in Sarasota, Fla., and last year wrapped its time there with a concert by the country act LoCash. Country artist Cole Swindell will also perform at Ed Smith Stadium this spring, John Angelos said Thursday.

The team also has brought in musical acts to perform the national anthem and postgame concerts over the past few years as part of its "Friday Fireworks and Music at America’s Ballpark" promotion, and John Angelos said it could also evolve into a weekend concert series after games.

“Friday shows are nice for emerging artists,” he said. “Postgame shows on maybe a Saturday night or whatever night people decide with more of a name artist, somewhere between a Billy Joel and an emerging artist would be nice to drive extra people to baseball games. I think it's all good. It all registers the same bottom line, and that is to get people coming here, sampling baseball, coming to baseball, coming to Camden Yards, coming to the Harbor and being in Baltimore.”

Thursday’s announcement is a logical progression from the team’s previous entertainment efforts, and signifies another area in which they’re taking things in a different direction from their father.

“That's why for the last few years we've been doing some things here and there, predominantly in Florida,” Angelos said. “That's why we started to do a little bit of music for Friday Fireworks and Music, just to sort of try things out in the marketplace. This is obviously a spectacular event, but from small to spectacular, you want to try to touch people in different ways and give people additional reasons to come to the ballpark.”

Billy Joel and his representatives sought out Camden Yards as they planned his six-year stadium series, said Wilson Howard, the Live Nation chief operating officer. Howard said the first call Joel’s agent, Dennis Arfa, made was to John Angelos.

“We just wanted to work Camden Yards the entire time,” said Howard, who projects the concert capacity for Camden Yards is 37,000.

John Angelos said the field was a major consideration in not having concerts at the ballpark previously, but “we have a great groundskeeper [Nicole Sherry] here and a great understanding of our field, and Live Nation has a great understanding of putting a show together.”

“I think for many years, there were some concerns about the field,” John Angelos said. “I think over time, we had a lot of focus on the other media platforms, and baseball’s interesting. … Baseball drives the most people, it brings the most people down for live events. We've talked about over the years that baseball and music are the two largest sellers of tickets by far.”

For many years, a concert at Camden Yards simply didn’t make sense for the Orioles. Under the team’s initial lease, it wouldn’t share in any profits from concerts and non-baseball events the stadium authority booked for the ballpark, but the team also could veto such events.

When the Ravens came to town and moved into what is now M&T Bank Stadium, the NFL team’s lease said it would split those profits with the stadium authority. The Orioles triggered a parity clause in their lease that stipulated they'd get a "fairly comparable" lease to any potential NFL neighbors, which led to a contentious legal battle. After several years of proceedings, an arbitration panel in 2001 awarded the team a share in non-baseball event revenue.

But the team never took advantage of that, though there were some efforts to do so. Orioles Entertainment was formed in 2004 — the same year the rock band Van Halen filed a lawsuit for damages of at least $2 million, alleging the band agreed to a verbal deal with Orioles Entertainment for the first concert at Camden Yards before the team backed out.’

Now, the Orioles are moving ahead with concerts, though John Angelos said the Orioles must be selective, plan events responsibly and make sure they “pay off.”

For the Joel concert, the Orioles Charitable Foundation will donate a portion of the proceeds to support music and arts education programs for kids in Maryland and across the team’s regional territory.

Tickets will go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. Jan. 18 at ticketmaster.com., though presale tickets will be available to American Express card members from 10 a.m. Monday through 10 p.m. Jan. 17 and Orioles season-plan holders from 10 a.m. Jan. 16 until 10 p.m. Jan. 17.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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