The Orioles announced on Thursday afternoon that starting on June 1, Oriole Park at Camden Yards will operate at full capacity. It’s a welcome development from a public health standpoint that restrictions that felt important in the middle of March are now less necessary. That’s something to be celebrated. What’s not to be celebrated is that the O’s have not similarly tossed aside restrictions on outside food and drink or bags that were instituted for the 2021 season.
As recently as the 2019 season, the Orioles bragged about offering fans “one of the most flexible food and beverage policies in the industry.” You couldn’t bring in hard coolers or a bunch of cans of beer or anything, but for the most part a fan that was interested enough to prepare could reduce the cost of attending a game by bringing things in with them.
This could be as simple as not paying stadium price for your first beverage of a day by getting a water, soda, or sports drink from one of the street vendors you probably pass on the way into the stadium. A family that put effort into it could pack several drinks and snacks for everyone into a soft cooler and have a much more accessible outing than if they “have to” pay stadium prices for hot dogs and sodas and everything else.
This longtime policy was halted for 2021 under the guise of COVID-related health and safety protocols. It’s right there on the “Gameday Health and Safety” page even today, with the Orioles specifically noting that “bags and outside food and beverage will continue to be prohibited until further notice” even now that the stadium will be open for full capacity in less than two weeks. This is a shame. The Orioles should provide that further notice immediately and return to the fan-friendly policy.
It was a questionable change in policy even at the beginning of the season. You could, at least, squint a little bit and accept that maybe there was some kind of pandemic-related rationale behind it. Searching bags and making sure people aren’t bringing in beer might gum up lines to get into the stadium. Smoothing out the entrance process would prevent that kind of bottleneck.
It’s a thin excuse considering the Orioles would have been fully capable of socially distancing the lines, if that was their concern. The excuse was even more thin, and remains so, with little apparent worry about fans congregating in concession lines within the stadium.
The other problem for the Orioles is that this was not some kind of universal, MLB-dictated policy. According to The Athletic, half of the teams in MLB are now permitting outside food and drink. Most of these teams have been allowing those items into their stadiums since Opening Day. A handful of these require such food to be in a clear plastic bag, which is a bit more of a burden, but it’s there as an option for fans of those teams.
Two of the three most-expensive stadiums to attend - Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium - allow fans to bring in outside food and drink, and have not made any change to this for ostensibly COVID-related reasons.
The Orioles do not have even a thin excuse now to continue this policy. It’s not like they ever even clearly offered that as an excuse to begin with, it just seems like what we are supposed to assume when bags, food, and drink were fine before and now suddenly they’re not during a pandemic, with the new restriction listed under the health and safety page.
Are people supposed to believe that it’s OK to allow as many as 45,000 people into the stadium, any number of whom may be aged 12+ who are not yet fully vaccinated or may be adults with no intention to ever be vaccinated, but it’s not OK to bring in sandwiches and soda bottles you packed at home or pulled out of a street vendor’s cooler full of ice water?
It is insulting to the intelligence. It feels like for whatever reason the Orioles decided that the pandemic was an excuse to try to pull a fast one. They have changed their longtime generous policy, apparently under the umbrella of pandemic safety, only to not change it back when the pandemic has improved enough to allow a sellout crowd in Camden Yards, if that many people actually want to watch this 17-26 squad probably lose another game.
It’s like the Orioles hoped no one would notice or complain too much that when the stadium fully opened again, they could not bring in a bottle of soda or a street vendor hot dog any more, or even carry the same purse that they usually carry to Orioles games. I noticed and I am complaining. I think it sucks. I hope that the team will make the right decision and go back to the fan-friendly food and bag policy that they used to consider a point of pride.