O’s returning FanFest to January

Posted: 7:36 pm Mon, January 18, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium is dark, pitchers and catchers report in 29 days and Baltimore Orioles’ baseball season unofficially kicks off this weekend with the first wintertime FanFest in four years.

Saturday marks the event’s return to the Baltimore Convention Center, its home until 2007. That year, FanFest was moved to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and held just before Opening Day due to a conflict with a Ravens home playoff game.

Sports marketers say the move back to January is a better one for the team because FanFest will coincide with the launch of single-game ticket sales and gets fans into baseball season early.

“It goes back to that hot stove approach and allows more flexibility,” said Marty Conway, director of business development for AOL and a former Orioles marketing director. “This is the right time for it from a fan perspective.”

The Orioles moved FanFest to winter this year for scheduling reasons, according to Monica Barlow, the team’s director of public relations.  Spring training and the Orioles’ first game of the season are in Florida, so it would have been impractical to host the event in Baltimore this spring.

“When we initially did the first one in the ballpark we weren’t sure how it would be received and how people would react,” Barlow said. “But we’ve found that some absolutely love the convention center and some absolutely love the ballpark. I don’t think there’s a consensus as to which one’s better.”

But fans will have something new to deal with this year — higher single-game ticket prices. The team has selected 19 games — Opening Day and New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox games — for premium pricing. Advance sales tickets for those games will cost an extra $10 to $30 this year.

The games are typically some of the highest-attended each year. Opening Day last year sold out with more than 48,600 in attendance, and Yankees and Red Sox games averaged well above 30,000 per game in 2009. Without those games, Orioles attendance averaged about 28,000 per game last year.

Barlow said keeping games affordable is “a major concern” for the Orioles but noted the team had not raised single-game ticket prices in six years and that the average cost for a game at Camden Yards was still $24. The major league average is $27, according to the Team Marketing Report.

Premium game pricing is becoming common across Major League Baseball, and despite the fact that the Orioles haven’t had a winning season in 12 years, this is a price hike marketers believe the team can get away with.

After all, New York and Boston fans have traveled in heavy numbers to Camden Yards in the past.

“If you’re going to do it, this is the one area you can raise ticket prices on,” said John Maroon of Maroon PR, and a former public relations director of the team. “Those are the ones in which you can do it and not see a drop-off in attendance.”

But what Baltimore fans may take issue with is an extra charge of $1 to $5 for tickets bought on game day. The pricing changes mean that a $48 seat owned by a season ticket holder would sell for $93 at the box office on the day of a Yankees or Red Sox game.

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