Despite suffering more pain than most MLB teams have had to endure in recent decades, the one constant about baseball in Baltimore has been the passionate fans who cheer on their beloved Orioles through both good times and bad.
Blessed with one of baseball’s most widely-acclaimed stadium’s since Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992, fans can enjoy catching a game accompanied by well-located concession stands, trendy bars, modern and spacious dining areas, and ample toilets. The backdrop of the Warehouse provides a unique setting, and the ballpark is just a short walk from the city’s inner harbor. A benchmark for modern-day baseball stadiums, OPACY is renowned for its level of ‘fan-friendliness’.
While fourteen consecutive losing seasons between 1998 and 2011 brought with it a sense of hopelessness and despair, and crowd numbers dipped steadily as a result, the average attendance at Camden Yards remained above 25,000 all the way through until 2009. With a team producing results such as the ones seen during these dark times, many other stadiums around the nation would have been empty.
Despite these challenges, the team returned to winning ways in 2012 and with it came a boost in attendance figures. During the magical playoff run of 2014, crowd numbers finally peaked back above the 30,000 average mark – the first time this had occurred since 2005.
The following year though, the Baltimore riots of April 2015 brought unprecedented heartache to the city and impacted the Orioles significantly. Never more so than the infamous ’empty stadium’ game against the Chicago White Sox later that month.
Speaking to many Orioles fans during the months that followed, the riots and aftermath were a genuine cause for concern and many chose to stay away from the city. It was far safer to watch at home or in a local bar.
As the city rebuilt, rejuvenated, and rebounded, the Orioles continued on their winning ways, however never really regained the aura of 2014. Something was missing – the team had become even more one-dimensional than it was before and fans seemed disengaged. Following a heartbreaking 2016 playoff loss which drew much criticism of the coaching staff, the 2017 season was one full of frustrations and the crowd numbers reflected that as an average of just 25,042 fans turned out for Orioles games that year. While the poor crowd figures drew some attention in local mainstream media, the sharp decline never truly received the analysis it deserved – why were the fans staying away and would things improve in 2018?
Following a slow, yet eventually moderately successful off-season, there appeared to be a renewed level of hope for the team heading into 2018. It is widely believed that it will be the last season the likes of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and Zach Britton will be in Baltimore, while the free agent additions of Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner provided hope that the team could make another playoff run.
Despite the hype, the fans are continuing to stay away and through the first four home games of the season a total of 88,359 have passed through the gates – 45,469 of which were on Opening Day. In the three games since, just 17,763, 17,212, and 7,915 fans respectively have watched the Orioles stumble to losses, with last night’s figure the lowest ever attendance recorded at Camden Yards. Yes, the lowest ever.
Following the announcement of the unwanted record, I took to Twitter to see what was causing the disinterest. While the city – and most of the east coast for that matter – is experiencing some horrific weather in recent weeks, this isn’t the first time such weather has embarked upon the city and there must be other factors.
Seeking insight from #Birdland, there was a wide range of reasons put forward other than the miserable weather, including:
- Perception of current crime
- The team is uninspiring
- The cost – tickets, food, drinks, etc.
- Poor transport options
- School is yet to finish
- Improved coverage on MASN
- Other sporting options (i.e. Capitals, Wizards)
The most common of the responses above was without doubt the uninspiring nature of the team, with some of the following responses received.
“I’m tired of knowing we’re not going to truly contend. Sick of the way the organization is run.”
“The games have been predictable and boring. The offense is a coin flip. The pitching is soon to let us down.”
“Sick to death of watching guys swing out of their spikes and strikeout, especially with runners in scoring position.”
“It’s how stagnant they are in free agency ever year. It feels like we are in the same situation.”
“Who is honesty entertaining enough on the team to go there and watch besides Manny Machado?”
“This year you have to pay major league prices to see half the order hitting under .200”
“Playing in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox is extremely discouraging. Feels hopeless.”
“I think many fans just don’t believe in this team. The inconsistency of the offense makes it feel like any night they could get just a couple of hits.”
In addition to the detailed responses received, I also conducted the following poll. As of 6:00am ET, 49% of respondents agreed – it’s the uninspiring nature of the team.
What’s keeping you away from Camden Yards?
(if it’s the weather, don’t answer)
— Dan Clark (@DanClarkSports) April 10, 2018
While the season is still early and the poor weather is undoubtedly keeping fans away, a crowd of just 7,915 fans is a genuine cause for concern and it’s about time the city’s mainstream media explore the issue further. There’s certainly going to be some head-scratching and robust discussion within the front office.
It’s also worth noting that 19,528 fans turned out to Nationals Park last night as the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves, 2-0 – almost three times as many, despite also being subjected to the poor weather. On the season to date, 112,536 fans have attended the four Nationals games, some 24,177 more than the Orioles have enjoyed.
What are your thoughts on the topic? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Main Image Credit: Braulio Perez