Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 9/28/12
The Baltimore Orioles celebrated the 20th anniversary of Camden Yards this year. A few more winning seasons and the Orioles just might get back to the sell-out crowds that filled Camden Yards in 1992 and for nearly a decade thereafter.
The high-water mark for attendance at Camden Yards was in 1997, when the the Orioles won the American League East with a record of 98-64. That year, 3,711,132 fans filled Camden Yards to the brim nearly every game. It’s been a steady decline ever since. Still, even as the team floundered after the 1997 season, more than 2,000,000 fans bought tickets year after year, putting the Orioles in the top half of American League teams in attendance.
Until 2008. That year, the Orioles’ yearly attendance fell below 2,000,000 for the first time since Camden Yards opened. The low-water mark came in 2010, when the Orioles reported only 1,733,019 tickets sold. Only the Blue Jays, Royals, A’s and Indians sold fewer tickets that year.
But things are looking up for the Orioles this season — on the field and at the box office. The Orioles have already clinched a winning season and, with a record of 89-67 heading into Friday’s action, lead the race for the American League Wild Card by one game over the A’s, and three over the Angels and Rays. Fans have responded by returning to Camden Yards in numbers not seen in years.
With three home games remaining this weekend, the Orioles are poised to pass the 2,000,000 mark in attendance for the first time since 2007. Through 78 home games, the Orioles have reported 1,981,154 tickets sold. Even if the Orioles average only 30,000 in attendance each game of the weekend series against the Red Sox, they’ll see the yearly total add up to more than 2,070,000. And 30,000 per game is a low estimate, considering that the team averaged 29,244 in their weekday games against the Blue Jays on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
Nothing at the beginning of the season foretold this increased fan interest.
The O’s opened the season at home against the Twins. More than 45,000 fans packed Camden Yards on Opening Day, just as they did on Opening Day in 2011. But the excitement of the new season — and early success by Baltimore — didn’t motivate the fan base. The Orioles never fell below .500 this season. Yet after opening weekend, the Orioles waited until  Saturday, May 12 before seeing a crowd larger than 30,000 at the Yard. The next time attendance topped 40,000 was in early June when the Phillies were in town for an interleague series. But many of those fans drove the 100 miles from Philadelphia and wore red Phillies jerseys. Later that month, the O’s hosted the Nationals, again pushing the average attendance over 40,000.
But the crowds receded in July and August. It wasn’t until the Yankees came to town for a four-game series in early September that attendance swelled again. By then, the Orioles were 76-60 and fighting with the Yankees for a share of first place. Two of the games were at or near Camden Yards’ 45,971 capacity, and the other two were not far off the mark. By contrast, when O’s played the Yankees in a four-game series at Camden Yards in August, 2011, the per game attendance was less than 30,000.
With postseason games a very real possibility, fan interest has reached a new level. The Orioles announced that tickets for a possible Wild Card game on October 5 and possible American League Division Series games starting on October 7 have sold out. The team has not yet put on sale tickets for a possible American League Championship Series or World Series.
How does the increase in attendance translate into additional revenue?
Last season, the Orioles drew only 1,755,461 fans. In its annual Business of Baseball article, Forbes estimated that the Orioles had taken in $42,000,000 in revenue from ticket sales in 2011. That works out to an average ticket price just under $25. If the O’s bring in 30,000 fans to each game this weekend, as I expect they will, the total attendance for 2012 will be more than 2,070,000. Even using last season’s average ticket price of $25, the additional tickets sold in 2012 would lead to nearly $8 million in additional ticket revenue over last year’s figure. That’s close to a 20 percent increase in ticket revenue in just one season.
None of this should come as a surprise. Winning tends to lead to more fans attending games, especially for teams who are headed to — or appear headed to — the postseason. Like the Orioles, the Nationals have also sold a bit more than 300,000 additional tickets this season compared to last, with three more home games remaining. Even the A’s, who have sat at or near the bottom in attendance for the last five-plus years, have seen attendance rise this season as the team pursues its first postseason berth since 2006. The increase is more modest — just over 55,000 — but the A’s have six home games remaining.
For the Orioles, success on the field came earlier than expected this season. Perhaps that’s why fan interest was slow to build. But build it did. Eventually. To the tune of more than $8 million in additional revenue.
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