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.

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If you smoke, you’re out!

The Baltimore smoke-out has expanded.

While the Orioles and Ravens may be smokin’ hot on the athletic turf, their fans won’t be allowed to light up in the sports complexes after March 4, the Maryland Stadium Authority said Monday.

The authority implemented the smoking ban at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the warehouse attached to the stadium and at M&T Bank Stadium. The ban includes “the burning of a lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, or any other matter or substance that contains tobacco” and applies to all spaces in the Camden Yards Sports Complex that are covered or uncovered, walled or exposed or open or closed to public access, the MSA said.

It also forbids smoking within 25 feet of any entry, outdoor air intake, or operable window of the stadium structures.

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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.”

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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.

Owe no: Schilling may not be so much on the hook

Is Curt Schilling going to be forced to auction off the bloody sock?

The retired big-league pitcher has said he could lose $50 million personally in the mess that is his 38 Studios video game company, which has filed for bankruptcy and previously laid off all of its employees, including those at Timonium’s Big Huge Games.

However, a report in the Boston Herald says Schilling isn’t in danger of losing anywhere near that much.

“Mr. Schilling’s wealth is irrelevant to whether or not he’s responsible for the company’s debts,” Massachusetts bankruptcy lawyer Francis Morrissey told the Herald. “Shareholders have liability limited to what they invested in the company.”

And according to bankruptcy documents, that liability extends to $3.5 million that Schilling pledged to guarantee one of his company’s loans.

“Officials say Schilling didn’t offer any additional assets as collateral for the $75 million bond sale [by the state of Rhode Island]. Experts say that means the state can’t go after the former Red Sox ace’s personal fortune unless it proves he committed fraud,” the Herald reported.

Which brings us to yesterday’s word out of the U.S. attorney’s office in Rhode Island that it, the FBI and state police were investigating 38 Studios. It’s not clear what for.

Boston bankruptcy lawyer David Reier told the Herald that Schilling’s big talk about his company to investors wasn’t criminal; authorities would have to prove that he was willfully lying.

(Incidentally, as long as Schilling is involved in this mishegoss, you think it’s best we keep referring to him as a former Red Sox pitcher and forget he ever played for the Orioles?)

O’s Showalter as reluctant HR expert

When Orioles starting pitcher Tommy Hunter got shelled for five runs in four and one-third innings Sunday versus the Red Sox in a 17-inning marathon, manager Buck Showalter had little choice but to send the struggling righty to the minor leagues.

Cutting or demoting players isn’t something Showalter, a major league manager for 14 seasons, enjoys. But he goes in with a plan that could be helpful to all supervisors and human resources professionals, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

The key is to appear confident and comfortable — even if you’re not.

“I make sure I get a good night’s sleep. I make sure I’m clean-shaven,” Showalter told Businessweek. “When they’re sitting across from me, I want them to know that I’ve got a clear head and that it was important to me to give them the time to explain what’s going on.”

The O’s skipper said he asks questions and gives players the opportunity to tell him what they think they did well and in what areas they need improvement.

He also said there’s always someone else in the room with him — a third party that can vouch for what was said in the meeting.

And If things turn ugly, Showalter is ready, too.

“I’ve had a bat within short reach,” he said.

The main takeaways: don’t waffle, encourage engagement and be honest. This is someone’s livelihood you’re talking about, after all.

Hunter, the pitcher who was sent to Triple A Monday, was back in Baltimore by Thursday after starting pitcher Jason Hammel couldn’t make his scheduled start against the Texas Rangers. But he won’t be the last player to be demoted or cut by Showalter, who is managing his second full year in Baltimore.

“I don’t ever want to be good at it,” Showalter said.

What he does want to be good at is managing the Birds to their first winning record since 1997.

With the Orioles sitting at 20-12 and tied for first place in the American League East, it’s so far, so good for the O’s de facto HR expert.

The bites at Birdland: Orioles showcase menu items

The Baltimore Orioles held a sneak-peek event last night to show off the views from the improved Flag Court and the new Roof Deck above the batter’s eye wall in center field, and food offerings at Camden Yards.

The views will be hard to beat. For the last 20 years, only cameramen have been watching the game from above center field, and now fans will be able to join them in an area with a full-service bar and seating. The team also added a bar area to the Flag Court and lowered the out-of-town scoreboard wall in right field by about four feet.

Representatives from the team’s concessionaire, Delaware North Cos. Sportservice, served up some of the specialties of the stadium’s newest eateries: Stuggy’s, Gino’s Burgers & Chicken and Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant (including Dempsey’s Rock Fish Tacos, right).

Brian Rathbun, of Delaware North Cos. Sportservice, the Orioles' concessions partner, builds a "Birdland Dog."

Dempsey’s replaces the Bud Light Warehouse Bar that was open on Eutaw Street on game days. Though it will initially only be open with a limited menu on game days, the restaurant is slated for a full opening toward the end of April. Once that happens, Baltimoreans and visitors alike will get to bite into the beer braised ribs and rock fish tacos any day of the week. (Full disclosure: This amateur restaurant critic and fish taco connoisseur thinks Dempsey’s got it just right.)

Game-goers can also look forward to Stuggy’s “Crab Mac ’n’ Cheese Dog” — we’ll let the name speak for itself — and the “Birdland Dog,” an all beef hot dog topped with sweet tomato jam, beef hash and fried onions.

In the hamburger corner, Gino’s is serving up the “Gino Giant,” a two-patty cheesburger, and the “Camden Giant,” a burger that sings to the hearts of locals with a crab cake resting atop a single patty.

The new grub will be awaiting the masses Friday for the Orioles’ home opener against the Minnesota Twins.

Orioles MASN TV ratings up

Baltimore Orioles TV ratings are up on MASN, according to Nielsen Research.

Through the team’s first 26 games of the 2011 season, the household audience in the Baltimore market overall is 24 percent larger than it was last year. That means an average of 61,208 area homes tuned to Orioles games this spring.

Viewing is up in all demographics, according to Nielsen, including a 33 percent increase in men 18 to 34 years of age. A year-to-year increase of 25 percent happened among males 25 to 54 years of age. Orioles audience is also more than twice as large in the Washington, D.C., market than it was last year.

The Washington Nationals TV ratings are up 78 percent on MASN over last year.

Top 5: Where Tom Brady and the Orioles run neck and neck

From horse racing to the NFL’s Tom Brady to the Baltimore Orioles, sports dominated the most popular stories generated by The Daily Record’s business reporters last week. And the latest twist in the city’s quest for a new sports arena cracked the top five after only day on our website.

1. Penn National backs plan to close Laurel, cut racing in Maryland

“From a business perspective, again, these are losing operations that will continue to be in decline without some alternative revenue stream or these types of steep cuts,” said D. Eric Schippers, a Penn National spokesman. The company’s position made public rifts that have developed in the corporate family that runs thoroughbred racing in Maryland.

2. Under Armour signs Tom Brady

For its first NFL quarterback endorser Under Armour aimed high, and the Baltimore-based company didn’t miss, signing three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady of the New England Patriots to help it wrest market share from rivals like Nike Inc.

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O’s attendance is … up?

Nope — that’s not a typo. It seems counterintuitive, right? The Orioles are stinking up the ballpark something fierce this season, losing 21 of their last 26 and with a 20-52 overall record.

But attendance is up more than 3 percent this year. And at one point (just after their last home stand against Boston) it was up by 10 percent.

I know. It seems weird. Through 35 home games, total ballpark attendance is at 802,977. Last year through 35 games the total attendance was 777,775. After the June 4-6 weekend series against Boston total attendance was 596,703 compared with 540,999. Continue reading