A Baltimore Fan’s Last Nerve
My boss, a Red Sox fan, approached me after Boston won another game at Camden Yards. He offered this completely unsolicited analysis.
“Your team? Fun to watch. Their fans? Pathetic.”
He’s talking about the number of empty seats at Camden Yards during the biggest series of the season.
I let him know I was in no mood – carefully, because after all, the guy is my boss. But I also let him know that the Orioles’ attendance troubles this year are more complicated than just an indictment of the fans.
There’s no doubt that the O’s are beloved in Baltimore. Their TV ratings continue to climb. People in rich neighborhoods, people in poor neighborhoods … one and all can be seen wearing the orange and black.
So how come attendance is down 3,000 a night from last year, a season when they didn’t make the playoffs?
Baltimore’s one of the poorest cities in America. I’m a homeowner in the city and sometimes it feels like everything’s broken. The pipes burst in the freezing winter, the power knocks out in the sweltering summer. There are too many cars on narrow streets. And the streets themselves are full of holes. The cops are overburdened and behave like outlaws. The politicians give all the tax breaks to people who need them the least. And my city taxes – income AND property – amount to about a grand a month.
And, of course, since the unrest around the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore City police, a lot of people from the suburbs are afraid to come downtown at night.
Add to that a 20 percent increase in Orioles ticket prices this year and you’ve got a recipe for lagging attendance. There are only so many people in this market who can afford Orioles tickets.
But what about the Ravens, you ask? They fill that stadium.
That’s different. Those tickets are far more expensive than baseball tickets and those fans do come from the suburbs. You’ll see thousands of Pennsylvania license plates at Ravens games. Fans in York and Lancaster and Gettysburg and Harrisburg have season tickets, as do fans from places like Annapolis and the east and west suburbs. Games are mostly in the daytime and fans can escape the city quickly or party with their own kind in the parking lot long after the game is over.
So maybe don’t compare Baltimore and Boston. Boston’s wealthy, Baltimore’s not. Boston’s a regional team, Baltimore’s not anymore. Before anyone proclaims Baltimore fans “pathetic,” step back and chill a little bit. Your well-heeled fanbase stretching from Hartford to Presque Isle doesn’t automatically mean you’re gonna win. But they do mean you’ll probably fill your precious little ballpark.