In March 1984, less than two weeks before Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott was born, the National Football League’s Baltimore Colts bolted for Indianapolis in the middle of the night.
Scott is confident the city won’t have a repeat when it comes to the Orioles.
“Baltimore knows what it feels like when a team is disinvesting in and going to leave, right?” Scott said at a news conference earlier this month with Orioles CEO and chairman John Angelos seated beside him. “It happened 11 days before I was born, if you were counting. This isn’t that. The Orioles have continued to make deep investments in the community.
“There are many worries that I have. The Orioles are not one.”
Baltimore’s Major League Baseball team has a chance to reaffirm its commitment to the city this week. Wednesday marks the deadline for the Orioles to exercise a one-time option to extend their lease with the Maryland Stadium Authority by five years. Otherwise, the lease will expire Dec. 31.
Angelos has long said the Orioles will remain in Baltimore, notably declaring in September 2019 that the city would be the team’s home “as long as Fort McHenry is standing watch over the Inner Harbor.” Yet the club remains without a long-term lease to play at Camden Yards, which celebrated its 30th anniversary season in 2022 and is considered one of MLB’s crown jewels.
The lease was set to expire at the end of 2021, but the Orioles and the stadium authority agreed early that year to extend the agreement through 2023. That extension not only pushed off the team’s opportunity to the exercise the five-year option by two years, but it also showed other paths forward remain for the sides even if the Orioles don’t exercise it.
Negotiations could be affected by new Gov. Wes Moore’s decision to replace stadium authority chairman Tom Kelso, though Kelso will stay in the role until a replacement is named. Also hanging over the situation is legal infighting of the Angelos family, which John Angelos said owns 70% of the club.
“The Orioles are going to be here for the long term,” Angelos said at the news conference with Scott. “We have been here, and I’ve said many times publicly, unsolicited, unprompted, we’re never going anywhere. And I grew up here. I spent every day of my life living not only in Maryland, not only in Baltimore, but in Baltimore City. I never lived in any other jurisdiction in this state other than Baltimore City, and I’m proud of that.
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“The Orioles will continue to work with the stadium authority and Tom Kelso and the next administration. I count Brandon and Wes as my personal friends, and we’re gonna get this done for just about every reason. We’re all local people who have the best of intentions, so fear not, the Orioles will be here.”
There is theoretically little downside for the Orioles in exercising the option, beyond dropping a yearslong safety net and putting pressure on the stadium authority to agree to terms with an official deadline in place. The NFL’s Ravens, who moved to the city in 1996, reached a new lease agreement with the stadium authority earlier this month despite having five years remaining on their previous one.
There’s nothing that would prevent the Orioles from extending their current lease using the five-year option and eventually overwriting what remains of it by agreeing to a new lease.
Even if they pick up the option, the Orioles could be well served to have a long-term deal in place sooner rather than later. It not only would erase any remaining fears among the fan base about them potentially moving elsewhere, but it also would allow the team to take advantage of a 2022 state law that would let the stadium authority borrow up to $600 million to pay for improvements at Camden Yards.
The same applied to the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium, and after reaching a new 15-year lease that includes two five-year options, the football team has started to plan potential upgrades.
Orioles officials have long hinted at changes they want to make to Camden Yards, including reducing the number of seats and adding social spaces. The team also could make further alterations to the stadium’s playing area after moving the ballpark’s left field wall back before the 2022 season.
For the changes to the wall, the Orioles are receiving a yearly rent credit from the stadium authority for the nearly $3 million expense, which will be covered in full only if the team plays at Camden Yards through 2026. Exercising the option by Wednesday’s deadline would get them there. But other upgrades would have to wait for a long-term lease.