In business, Orioles already winners

oriolesRegardless of whether the Orioles make the playoffs this year, they already have posted a successful season. This week, the club released data showing significant — in some cases, huge — increases in attendance, television ratings and merchandise sales.

*Attendance: Through Tuesday night, the Orioles had drawn 2,132,773 fans for 73 dates, an average of 29,216. They have already surpassed last year’s total attendance for 79 dates of 2,102,240, an average of 26,611. The Orioles’ increase ranks second among all major-league clubs by percentage, behind only the Toronto Blue Jays. The O’s are on pace for their highest attendance total in eight years.

*TV ratings: The audience for games on MASN has increased by 45 percent in 2013. Through the end of August, the average rating for a game telecast was 6.5, compared with 4.5 at the same point last year. Only the Kansas City Royals — whose ratings are up 84 percent over 2012 — have had a bigger jump.

*Merchandise: Sales of licensed Orioles jerseys, caps and the like have leaped 89 percent this year over 2012, the largest increase in the majors.

YouTube Preview Image

 

Tossing the umpire for a machine

What would Earl Weaver think of this?

A former Hagerstown resident, Jerry Spessard, has invented the Eagle Eye Electronic Home Plate for baseball. It takes the human umpiring element out of calling balls and strikes via an electro-optical system that will track each pitch.

Spessard, who relied on technical expertise from the University of Maryland and elsewhere, plans to begin manufacturing Eagle Eye at a plant in Hancock by the fall, The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown reports. Some units will be used by amateur teams this summer.

How exactly does it work?

“Coca-Cola has its secret formula and we have ours,” Spessard told the newspaper.

If there is one part of Eagle Eye that is a bit clunky for the moment, it’s the requirement to measure the strike zone — from chest to knees — for each batter and input the information before a game. Spessard speculated that computer chips in uniforms could someday provide the same data for batters.

The unit has been tested by University of Maryland baseball players, so Eagle Eye’s plate has shown itself capable of holding up when stomped on, slid across or surrounded by wet ground.

Which also means that when a manager — like Weaver, the late Orioles skipper — doesn’t agree with Eagle Eye’s calls, the plate can stand up to having dirt kicked all over it.

But, just think, we wouldn’t get to see an umpire emote like Leslie Nielsen in a “Naked Gun” movie.

YouTube Preview Image

Is MASN in play?

Every once in a while, we’ll hear rumblings of Peter Angelos selling the Orioles. None of those reports has played out yet, so the latest rumors about a possible sale of the Orioles-owned Mid-Atlantic Sports Network could well be of the same vintage.

Alan Rifkin, counsel for the Orioles, denied MASN is on the block in the clearest possible terms.

“There has been no contact,” he told the Sun. “There has been no offer. There has been no discussion of it. MASN is not for sale.”

The report that MASN — which carries Orioles and Washington Nationals games — might be sold was contained in a larger story by John Ourand of Sports Business Journal about how Fox Sports is on the prowl for more regional sports properties after buying 49 percent of New York’s YES Network offering $6 billion for rights to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 25 years.

The article didn’t say a MASN sale was imminent. Ourand described talks between Fox — which has no regional network presence in either Baltimore or Washington — and MASN as “on-again, off-again” and now in the “off” stage. Likewise, efforts by Comcast — whose Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic does not carry any Major League Baseball — “did not progress far,” Ourand wrote.

But the juiciest piece of the article concerning the Baltimore-Washington market was this:

“Fox’s involvement in talks with MASN came at MLB’s urging, sources said. MASN still is involved in a rights fee dispute with the Nationals. That dispute hasn’t been resolved, though both parties met at MLB’s New York offices last week. MLB hoped that a deal with Fox would solve the dispute.”

As part of the deal with the Orioles to allow the former Montreal Expos to move to D.C., Major League Baseball granted the O’s ownership of the Washington team’s television rights. Under the arrangement, the Nationals can own a piece of MASN, but no more than one-third. So even if the Nats negotiate a higher rights fee, they won’t receive anywhere near the amount of the market value for a contending team — the Nationals won their division this year — located in the large Washington market.

“All the parties signed the contract,” Rifkin told The Sun. “They did so with eyes wide open. Major League Baseball has the responsibility to make sure the contract will be enforced and effectuated.”

YouTube Preview Image

A decent cup of coffee but no souvenir at the birthplace of Dunkin’

I drove more than 400 miles for a coffee mug last weekend and came away with a cup of coffee I’ve sipped a hundred times before.

More accurate, if we’re getting technical, is that I drove that far for the mug and a Saturday night baseball game at 100-year-old Fenway Park, home of the recently rebooted Boston Red Sox.

But, while in the area, two caffeine-addicted friends and I thought it would be a waste if we didn’t visit the very first Dunkin’ Donuts, founded in 1950 about 30 miles south of Beantown in Quincy, Mass.

We went in determined to walk out with a new, souvenir coffee mug.

We came out with the same Styrofoam cup of black coffee we’ve bought at every Dunkin’ Donuts in Baltimore.

It wasn’t because we had a change of heart.

Continue reading

Orioles in playoffs would be good for business; playoff ticket invoices going out

So how much would it mean to businesses in Baltimore if the Orioles make the playoffs?

That was one of the issues discussed Wednesday at a panel discussion on the economic impact of Camden Yards, hosted by the team.

After Tuesday’s games, the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays were essentially tied atop the American League Wild Card standings. If the season ended today (which, last I looked, it doesn’t), both teams would be in the playoffs.

Doug Duennes, executive vice president of business operations for the Orioles, said that the addition of one more wild card team in each league has added to the excitement of the playoff races. He also said that despite the team’s poor record over the last 14 years, that they would be ready.

“We had to dust off that manual a little bit,” Duennes said. “As we get into a nice September run, the excitement goes beyond Camden Yards.”

“Because we play so many games, we are able to build momentum,” he added. “Everybody is on the edge of their seat.”

Thomas J. Noonan, president ant CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city’s tourism arm, pointed out the “civic pride component,” as well as the fact that there are more people coming to the park. He also said a winning team helps him draw visitors.

“People like going to towns where there are winners,” he said. “If we get extra games in October, that has a huge impact on us.”

And Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said the team’s success has brought a “feeling of pride to the corporate community” as well.

“When you see something going good, you want to be a part of that,” Fry said.

UPDATE

The Orioles also said that they will be sending playoff ticket invoices (!) to their season ticket holders starting Thursday. (The news was first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal.)

Orioles spokesman Greg Bader said ticket prices for the first two rounds (Wild Card and Divisional playoffs) would be “mostly” the same as prime regular season games.

American League Championship Series games would be about 50 to 60 percent more than prime games, and World Series games would be three times as much, Bader said.

The Orioles make recommendations on ticket prices to Major League Baseball, Bader said, and then MLB makes recommendations back to the Orioles before the prices are set.

Say hey, Hagerstown

With Wednesday’s news that there may be a deal in the works to keep the Suns minor-league team in Hagerstown, we’re reminded of Hagerstown’s place in baseball history.

We’re not talking about how Hagerstown was briefly the home of Washington Nationals wunderkind Bryce Harper. Hagerstown has had professional baseball off and on since 1915, though there was a big gap from the 1950s until 1980s.

However, in June 1950, Hall of Famer Willie Mays — who should be on anyone’s short list of the greatest players ever — played his first professional game in Hagerstown as a newly signed member of the New York Giants’ Trenton, N.J., minor-league club.

Mays has recalled Hagerstown of those days as a terrible place for a black ballplayer, where he was subjected to racist catcalls whenever he took the field. But Mays was invited back to Hagerstown by the Suns in 2004, and, upon his visit, he said he had forgiven the town for the way he was treated.

Glove at first sight

Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips has won three Gold Glove awards for his fielding prowess. But that doesn’t mean he can wear a gold glove while he’s playing.

That’s the position of Rawlings Sporting Goods, the manufacturer that started the Gold Glove awards 55 years ago. Rawlings is suing Wilson Sporting Goods in federal court because Wilson makes the glove that Phillips has been wearing (seen at right), which features “metallic gold-colored webbing, stitching and lettering,” the complaint states.

“Not only is Mr. Phillips using the infringing Wilson glove in the field during games, warm-ups, and practices, but defendant and Mr. Phillips also have promoted the very existence of the glove (and its connection to Wilson) through various channels and media.”

Rawlings claims it has cornered the gold market when it comes to baseball gloves, so it wants Wilson to stop making any glove with “metallic gold-colored material, or any other features that are confusingly similar” to the gloves Rawlings gives to award winners each year.

Rawlings isn’t suing Phillips, so it’s not clear whether company representatives will be showing up at the ballpark to yank the glove off Phillips’ hand.

Baltimore’s beer-volution

If you follow me on Twitter, it should come as no surprise that I’m a happy participant in what is interchangeably called the craft or local brewing revolution.

So imagine my excitement at the brewing revival happening in Baltimore, my adopted hometown, which The Washington Post recently featured in its Food section as a fine city to enjoy a pint of local suds on tomorrow’s ill-timed, midweek holiday.

The Post suggests five (why not four?) brews to imbibe on the Fourth of July but also talks up some recent additions to Baltimore’s beer list, starting with Rain Delay IPA at Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant in the Camden Yards warehouse.

The modestly-hoppy ale sports a bit less bite than I’d ordinarily like, but as far as ballpark beers go, it’s top-notch. And Dempsey’s is open when the O’s are out of town and out of season, too — a nice touch for those of us who desperately miss the Yard during cold Charm City winters.

Union Craft Brewing, Peabody Heights Brewery and area heavyweight Heavy Seas (formerly Clipper City) all deservedly earned mention in The Post’s beer-reviewed walk-up to the holiday.

Now, where should a Baltimore beer snob go to celebrate our nation’s birthday?

(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Stephen Strasburg back at Hagerstown

Stephen Strasburg made a bit of a media splash Sunday after a double-header at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown.

The No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft returned to the Washington Nationals’ minor league Class-A team, the Hagerstown Suns, after undergoing reconstructive surgery for a ligament in his elbow last fall.

The first rehabilitative game for Strasburg brought the ballpark’s second largest crowd ever, with 6,758 fans, according to the team’s website. So this season will likely be a hopping one for Hagerstown’s residents and fans.

And just for an update, the other Hagerstown star, Bryce Harper, moved to Double-A Harrisburg Senators in July. His most recent game on Aug. 7 against the Erie SeaWolves drew a little more than 3,000 spectators.

Bryce Harper’s four eyes

I read this article on Bryce Harper in The Washington Post the other day, and thought it was hilarious. Harper made a trip to the eye doctor and could suddenly see the ball again, after getting a pair of contacts.

When I’d done this story on Harper’s beginnings in Hagerstown for the Hagerstown Suns, the assignment required a couple of trips to the ballpark to watch him play. And honestly, the performance I’d witnessed from him had seemed a little lackluster. The best hit he had was a line drive during a double-header.

But when I had to give updated stats on his performance for when the story later ran, I was shocked at how he’d jumped from .231 to .480.

Now we know.

I wish I could blame my subpar performance on effectively cleaning bathtubs or mowing the lawn on poor eyesight.