After 14 autumns as an afterthought, the Orioles — headed to the playoffs — have made the beleaguered baseball franchise the focus of Baltimore’s professional sports scene.
That focus has the NFL’s Ravens in an unusual position. Long-used to enjoying a September and October monopoly after more than a decade of losing baseball at the stadium just down the street, the perennial playoff-contending football team has been nudged aside this week.
Though fan and advertiser spending may shift from one team to the other momentarily, local economists and sports business experts say there’s plenty of cash to sustain two successful sports teams in Baltimore.
“I would like to say I hope so,” said Gabrielle Dow, the Baltimore Ravens’ vice president of marketing. “And I want it to.”
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said Dow and the Ravens have nothing to worry about.
“Sports is one of those things that, when you have this sort of excitement, people get caught up in the enthusiasm,” Fry said. “They get excited about what it means. I certainly think there’s plenty of money in the private sector to be supportive of two teams, and especially two very successful teams.”
It comes down to whether the sports business in Baltimore is a zero-sum game, said Mark Hyman, a veteran sports business journalist and author.
Hyman said the issue of competition between professional sports franchises usually comes up between teams playing the same game. When the Ravens came to Baltimore, there were questions about whether the region could support both the Ravens and Washington Redskins. The reverse happened when the Nationals baseball team came to Washington.
“It’s unusual in our market to ask about the Ravens and Orioles, because they’ve never been good at the same time,” Hyman said. “The question is, is it a zero-sum game?
“The answer is, probably, no.”
Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc., said the more likely scenario is that overall sports spending will increase, rather than drastically shift from the football birds to the baseball birds.
“You can imagine what this means for advertising revenue,” Basu said. “It’s been one of the softest parts of the economy for five years.”
If that’s the case, Dow said the Ravens would “happily share the spotlight.”
“I think our fans are their fans,” she said. “I think it’s a win-win for the city, and the more wins, the better.”
Dennis Coates, a sports economist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said some fans’ attention will absolutely be diverted from the Ravens to the Orioles.
But the grip of the Ravens is so tight that the franchise will barely notice the loss of eyeballs. Even if fans sell their tickets for a game at M&T Bank Stadium to go to an Orioles playoff game, the fan equivalent of the sports mantra “next man up” will take care of that empty seat.
“There’s not that many NFL games in a season, and there’s plenty of people that would jump at the chance to go to an NFL game if someone were to put their seats up to a sale,” Coates said. “I’m sure there’d be plenty of people in Baltimore who would snap up those tickets.”
Dow, however, conceded that having the Orioles play into October has created some logistical challenges. The Ravens plan to host A Purple Evening, an event for female fans, on Monday. But the team could have to cancel if the Orioles are hosting Game Two of the American Legion Division Series. The Ravens are also slated to host the Dallas Cowboys at 1 p.m. on Oct. 14, the same day the Orioles could conceivably host Game Two of the American League Championship Series. Playoff game times have not been announced.
Even if it’s not on the field, the teams are competing with one another in a business sense.
“There probably is [competition] for that disposable income dollar,” Dow said. “But we don’t look at it that way.”
Basu said it is likely that consumer money otherwise spent on the Ravens might now be temporarily spent on the Orioles. But the shift will be more positive for the Orioles than it will be negative for the Ravens, he said.
“Instead of buying a third Ravens jersey … they might buy a jersey that says ‘Jones’ on the back, or ‘Markakis’ on the back,” Basu said. “The Ravens are so beloved, this is not anywhere near a material economic effect for the Ravens.”
The only significant impact may be years down the line. Teams won’t see a difference in game attendance or significant changes in merchandise sales, Coates said, but television and radio broadcast ratings for the Ravens could dip as more fans watch the Orioles.
Down the line, that could have an impact on negotiations for broadcast rights, mostly at the local level, where WBAL Radio carries both teams’ games.
Fry, the GBC’s CEO, said there could also be future planning problems that will have to be discussed.
“For the first time, we need to start thinking about scheduling,” he said. “But that’s good, because that’s something that large, successful cities have to deal with. … That’s good for your city, to have that sort of situation where you have two or three competing big events coming up.
But most of all — everyone agrees — the biggest impact of the Orioles winning is the civic joy it generates.
“Just having that magic that many of us remember from years ago,” Fry said. “It’s just an incredible story.”