Most fans want to see a winner and Orioles fans are no exception. The Orioles had an average attendance larger than 40,000 fans per game from 1992-1999 when they were reasonably good. From 2006 to 2011 attendance was nearly half of that at about 21,000 to 26,000 fans per game. What's interesting is that attendance has been increasing from 2012 to 2014. Attendance has increased from 21k fans per game in 2011 to 29k fans per game in 2013 and 2014.
According to Baseball Reference, Orioles attendance is down slightly in 2014 from 2013. Baseball Reference determines this by comparing how many fans showed up in 2013 through the number of games played at home in 2014. They're comparing 2013 attendance through 49 games to 2014 attendance through 49 games.
There are problems with this approach. More fans attend games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday then attend games on Monday through Thursday. More fans attend Orioles' games against the Red Sox, Yankees and interleague teams then they do against the Rays and Royals. If a double header is played due to a game being postponed and tickets are good for both games (which has happened once this year) then Baseball Reference considers the second game as having 0 attendance. While this is technically accurate, it is unhelpful when trying to determine trends. Without finding a way to account for these issues it really isn't possible to compare 2013 attendance to 2014 attendance.
What I decided to do was build a dataset with all Orioles home games from 2006 to 2014 and determine average attendance based on the day of week that a game is played as well as the opponent type in order to be able to compare attendance from 2006 to 2014. The chart below shows the season, attendance above average season and attendance above average season through 48 games. The reason why I use 48 games instead of 49 is because I omit all games with an attendance of 0 due to a double header.
|Year||Extra Fans Full Season||Extra Fans Looking at First 48 Games|
The chart shows that when these factors are taken into account we should expect the 2014 Orioles to have 100,000 to 150,000 more fans in attendance than the 2013 Orioles and about 650,000 to 710,000 more fans in attendance than the 2010 Orioles. The reason why the numbers look different can be explained by the following two charts. The first chart shows the number of games that the Orioles have played against different types of opponents on different days of the weeks.
|Opponent Rank||Day of Week||2006||2007||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012||2013||2014|
The Orioles haven't played very many elite opponents on the weekend yet this year and it's showing in the attendance numbers. On the other hand, this team hasn't played a lot of home games during the middle of the week against average opponents. The next chart shows the attendance for each type of game.
The chart shows that the Orioles are seeing an increase in attendance in just about every category from 2014 to 2013 with the one exception being average games on a Saturday. It also shows a large increase in attendance in 2013 and 2014 compared to 2008 through 2011.
Orioles' fans have shown they'll go to games to support even a competitive team. The Orioles only made it to the playoffs once in that two year span and didn't win the AL East in either of those years. If the Orioles can win the AL East and/or advance in the playoffs then it seems reasonable to expect an even larger increase in attendance. Management will need to consider that when making decisions about the team. It means that another reason why they'll want to buy is because they see the benefits of having a good team.
There's really only one problem. The Orioles were eligible for Wednesday's Competitive Balance Lottery. The only teams available for this lottery are those that are in the bottom ten in either market or revenue. According to the CBA, the Orioles' market is considered the eleventh smallest meaning that the Orioles revenue is in the bottom ten. Given the Orioles payroll is 14th highest in the majors already it's hard to see the team spending a lot more money on payroll when the team simply doesn't have that kind of revenue.
The reason why the Orioles have such a large revenue problem is simple. Their average ticket price is one of the lowest in the majors. At a cost of $25 per average ticket and $45 per premium ticket, the Orioles are charging considerably less than the average MLB cost of $28 per average ticket and $93 per premium ticket. One reason why the Red Sox can spend so much money on players is because they charge $52 per average ticket and $176 per premium ticket. Each Red Sox fan brings in at least twice as much revenue as each Orioles fan. And when you consider that the Red Sox attendance is usually greater then the Orioles by about 500,000 fans it is clear why they can afford a larger payroll then the Orioles.
If the Orioles' attendance increases by a million fans from 2011 to 2015 then the team would see an increase of revenue between $25 and $30 million dollars. Realistically, all of that money wouldn't go solely to payroll so we're talking enough revenue to add some talent but not enough to make a real splurge.
The Nationals charge $34 per average ticket and $187 per premium ticket. Suppose the Orioles attendance was 3,000,000 in 2015 and they charged the same ticket prices as the Nationals. In that case, the Orioles might see an increase of revenue of about $80 million dollars which is easily enough to make a splurge. With that kind of increase in revenue a payroll of $130 to $140 million is very possible and with that kind of money the Orioles could go after a top free agent.
Which begs my question. Would you pay the same average ticket prices that Nationals fans pay if it meant the club could spend $40 million more on payroll?