The Orioles are coming off of an improbable 93-win season that breathed life back into the failing lungs of Baltimore's baseball faithful. The team's first winning season in 14 years saw the fans hesitate to board a bandwagon too early (after all, they'd been burned before - 2005, anyone?), but by September they turned out in force to support the team's ultimately successful playoff charge. It would be reasonable, coming off that campaign, to expect 2013 to be a year where fans come out in force to support the team. But if they do, it won't be because of anything the Orioles did to bring them to the stadium - or at least that's how it's looking right now. There's still time for the organization to get it right.
I'll be clear - a winning team is still the absolute best way to get the fans out to the stadium. I still think the Orioles will be a winner this year, but it takes a long run of success to guarantee big attendance numbers on an ongoing basis. Baseball isn't football, or even hockey - there are 81 games for a team to sell tickets to, many of which will be played on weeknights, in lousy weather, and against unexciting opponents. Any team that isn't the Yankees needs to be constantly mindful of ways to keep the fans coming through the turnstiles. If the Orioles are below .500 in August (perish the thought), who's going to come sit in the heat to see the Astros in the middle of the week?
The Orioles have a mixed history of being on top of things as far as promotions go. At the end of the long run of losing seasons, the team was dishing out bobbleheads once a month, offering $1 seat promos and running t-shirt Tuesdays and bargain nights, but it was a scattershot approach at best. Last season, to the team's credit, they made a major investment in upgrading Camden Yards to celebrate the stadium's 20th anniversary, and they matched those plans by unveiling statues for the Orioles legends in the centerfield plaza, accompanying each unveiling with a nice ceremony and a replica statue giveaway for fans. This all culminated in Cal Ripken's statue date, which came on a Thursday night near the end of the season, against the Yankees, and to many fans was one of the most memorable nights of an amazing season.
But despite the team's forethought last season, stadium attendance hit the doldrums at mid-season, culminating in Adam Jones calling out Orioles fans on Twitter for not showing up. As our own Eat More Esskay smartly pointed out at the time, the Orioles weren't doing a lot to change the situation. Only after a great deal of embarrassment did the team successfully roll out a "throwback pricing" promo that neatly wrapped into the Camden Yards anniversary season. But the question is, why didn't anyone think about this kind of promotion before the season started? Most people didn't even expect the Orioles to be in the hunt last season, so imagine what attendance might have been like if the team wasn't en route to the playoffs. Why didn't the team have "throwback pricing" planned for low-demand weeknight games all along?
All of this brings us to the 2013 season, where the Orioles seem to be making minimal efforts to capitalize upon their 2012 success in the realm of attendance. A quick look at the team's 2013 promotional schedule elicits a resounding "meh." There's only one bobblehead night all season - without an offsetting promotion like the legends statues - and the choices for the "fans' choice" bobblehead, announced this week, are not exactly inspired. After that, there's an Adam Jones replica jersey (a follow-up to a successful 2012 promo), and ... not much else to get particularly excited about. Fans aren't looking at a lot of choice collectibles, and there are no noteworthy pricing promotions, either.
But let's say promotions aren't your thing. The Orioles are at least going to take care of the new fans and season ticket holders that are coming to the gates based on the team's on-field performance, right? Not so much, actually. Stacey detailed the team's missteps with its new season-ticket holders several weeks ago, and things haven't gotten any better since then. Several Camden Chat regulars who signed up for new season ticket plans in September still haven't received their season tickets, with the season kicking off in a week, and none of us have been contacted by the team, either. And to add insult to injury, the team held a "tag day" last weekend, where people walked in off the street, picked a season plan and seat, and left the park with their tickets, and a $50 stadium voucher to boot. That's not exactly a solid way to show appreciation for the folks who bought in on the team last fall.
The Orioles organization has some work to do to capitalize on their newfound winning ways, and show some appreciation for diehard fans who are coming back to the stadium as season ticket holders. I'm just a blogger with no marketing experience, and just spitballing for five minutes, I came up with the following:
- Give away a series of bobbleheads or figurines with iconic moments from the 2012 season (Chris Davis schlepping Nate McLouth around the infield, Manny Machado's pump fake, a McLouth-Jones-Markakis outfield victory leap, Luis Ayala catching a home run ball in his hat, etc.)
- On weeknight non-prime games, offer fans an upper reserve ticket and a $10 concession voucher for $10 - day of game only, cash only (with no walk-up fee).
- For games against the Yankees and Red Sox, offer an exclusive promotional item to be used in the stadium (a rally towel, foam finger or t-shirt) only to fans wearing Orioles gear when they come in the gates.
- Against the Nationals, offer a "welcome back" promotion for fans to exchange any piece of Nationals gear (to be donated to a DC-area charity) for an exclusive Orioles cap.
- Send all new season ticket holders who reserved their tickets in 2012 the same $50 voucher offered on tag day, a set of extra upper reserve ticket vouchers, or an exclusive collectible.
I'm sure these aren't all plausible ideas, but they represent a huge missing effort from the Orioles front office to get out in front and put butts in seats for the team's 2013 campaign. It isn't too late for them to try harder, and they need to do so if they don't want to let this pivotal moment in the team's history slip away.