In an offseason that has been, and will continue to be, very thin on exciting roster moves, the Orioles made a fairly sizable announcement yesterday: Billy Joel will play the first concert held at Camden Yards in July. The Piano Man is a decent consolation prize for not getting Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, right? (There is a joke to be made here about whether Billy Joel could post a better offensive season than Chris Davis did in 2018, but I’ll let somebody else make it.)
Concerts being announced at Major League Baseball stadiums isn’t newsworthy, as it happens all the time. But not in Baltimore. Camden Yards has been a baseball-only venue since opening its doors in 1992. The announcement of it becoming a concert venue twenty-seven years is a story.
As a huge fan of live music, this excites me. I’ve seen Fenway Park and Wrigley Field pop up in the tour dates of my favorite bands and always think “wouldn’t it be great to see them at The Yard!” Merriweather Post Pavilion is a great place to see a show, but an outdoor venue with the added perks of being downtown is a welcome addition to a lacking Baltimore music scene. While Billy Joel isn’t a favorite of mine, I do hope it means more concerts to come. John Angelos says it does.
For those in Birdland who don’t attend concerts, does this announcement mean anything? It does. Here are a few thoughts about how the announcement will impact the Orioles and fans.
Change in ownership is further solidified
There have been signs over the past year that Peter Angelos has passed more control of the Baltimore Orioles franchise to his sons: last summer’s announcement of a renewed focus on international scouting, the hiring of Mike Elias being handled by John and Lou, the conversational press conference introducing Elias, the kids attend games for free promotion, and the introduction of theme nights at The Yard in 2018 to name a few. This concert announcement is another example of the Angelos sons taking the organization in a new direction. Roch Kubatko said the obvious in yesterday’s blog: Peter Angelos “has been resistant in the past to approving concerts at the ballpark.” Camden Yards was essentially unavailable for any event other than baseball. There were rumblings of Camden Yards being a site for the NHL’s Winter Classic a few years ago and that never materialized. (To be fair, it was a longshot for the Capitals to leave the District of Columbia for their outdoor game.)
It is safe to say that Billy Joel wouldn’t be playing at Camden Yards in July if it weren’t for John and Lou Angelos taking more control of the franchise. While the elder Angelos is a complicated figure in the Baltimore sports landscape, most O’s fans are happy that his influence is waning.
The potential for more revenue
Professional sports organizations are not unlike any other organization in that they want to maximize revenue. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a large venue that generates no money when sitting empty. Why not hold events other than the 81 baseball games the Orioles play there every year?
This Sporting News article details the rise in concerts at stadiums over the past several years. Franchises see concerts as a way to generate extra revenue through ticket sales, parking, and concessions. Will this immediately allow the Orioles to compete with the Yankees for top free agents? Of course not. But every bit of extra revenue helps for a mid-market team like Baltimore.
More brand awareness
This may be trivial and not a factor in the team’s on-field performance, but the Orioles being involved in more non-baseball activity can only help their brand. The publicity gained from this and exposing new audiences to the franchise can only be a positive. Yesterday’s concert announcement generated considerable media buzz in the local, baseball, and music communities. Any increased attention paid to the Orioles’ brand is good.
Potential damage caused to playing field
The world’s best athletes expect to perform on the world’s best playing surfaces. Concerts held at stadiums require a stage being set up on the field and fans pack onto the field. (This is the set up for two concerts at Fenway Park this summer.) It is no surprise that there is the potential for field damage.
John Angelos addressed this, claiming he has no concerns. He cited their great groundskeeping staff and Live Nation’s (concert promoter) vast experience with putting on events at stadiums.
That may be true, but there are plenty of examples of fields being ruined by concerts. This season’s Monday Night Football game between the Rams and Chiefs needed to be moved to Los Angeles because a Shakira concert wrecked the playing field in Mexico City where those teams were slated to play. The University of South Carolina needed to replace the field in their football stadium after Beyonce and Jay-Z ruined it right before the season started. The Cardinals and Tigers recently had their fields damaged by musical performances. As you can read here, players and managers don’t care for this and it’s hard to blame them.
While there are also many examples of concerts not ruining a playing surface, the above examples prove that it can happen. The groundskeepers will need to be on top of their game and it is a situation worth monitoring after the Billy Joel concert.
The “baseball only” appeal to Camden Yards is gone
Camden Yards was a groundbreaking venue when it opened in 1992 for a variety of reasons. One is that it is simply and beautifully a baseball stadium. Baseball fans were used to packing into generic, cookie cutter multi-purpose stadiums that also hosted football games, concerts, political rallies, and anything else that drew an audience. It is easy to understand why some fans would prefer to keep The Yard as a venue for only America’s pastime.
It will be interesting to see how the non-baseball schedule at Camden Yards plays out from here. I will also be interested in seeing how the Billy Joel concert plays out in terms of the team’s marketing of it, how well it is attended, and potential field damage. If you like large crowds and excitement, it may be one of the better nights to be at Camden Yards this summer.