It's late September and the Baltimore Orioles are in the thick of the playoff race. So where is everybody? That's the question fans are working through as rows and rows of green seats remain unoccupied during critical games, including the current series against the Boston Red Sox.
The conversation actually started back in April, when Hall of Fame pitcher and TV analyst Pedro Martinez questioned why there was such a paltry crowd. It picked up steam in August, when former Sun scribe Dan Connolly noted that Camden Yards is "still a Red Sox haven, still half empty," and again weeks later during a poorly attended three-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays. These most recent games against the division rival Red Sox have prompted even bro-tastic site Barstool Sports to weigh in. And Adam Jones' comments on the issue—that it feels "eerie" at Camden Yards these days—have made the Orioles' attendance problem a national sports story.
On Wednesday, The Sun did a big takeout—featuring the work of five reporters—on the team's woes at the turnstiles, pointing to a likely confluence of reasons: raising ticket prices, reactions to the uprising, and fears of crime downtown.
Who or what else can be blamed? Let us count them:
Some hard numbers from the aforementioned Sun story: "The Orioles have suffered the fifth-largest attendance drop in Major League Baseball, residing near noncontenders such as the Minnesota Twins and the Milwaukee Brewers. Though MLB attendance is down slightly overall compared to 2015, the drop of 2,602 fans per game in Baltimore was more than 10 times the average decline going into Wednesday’s games."
On the plus side, the team's TV ratings have consistently near the top of the league this season, so it's not as if people have stopped caring altogether.
So what can be done? The organization has to feel like it's in a bit of a bind. For years, the team was terrible and fans said they craved a winner—that period of mediocrity also coincided with great marketing offers to get people to buy tickets, such as T-shirt Tuesday's and Ollie's Bargain Night.
Now we have a team with legitimate playoff hopes, building on the last four years of competitive baseball, and attendance numbers are sagging. The team spent a lot of money in the offseason to keep the core group intact, so perhaps an increase in cost seemed justified. But when you contrast the number of people watching at Camden Yards versus on TV, maybe that decision was a bit unwise.
Looking toward the offseason, the front office is tasked with the balancing act of trying to bring back fans and putting into place a business plan that will develop enough revenue to sign free agents and offer extensions to Manny Machado and Zach Britton. Such a quandry will likely lead to more soul-searching for the team and its supporters.