ANNAPOLIS – Comparing the financial success of Maryland’s two professional football franchises to the viability of the area’s soon-to-be two Major League Baseball teams might be like comparing footballs and baseballs.
Major League Baseball announced Wednesday that the Montreal Expos will relocate to Washington, D.C., at season’s end. This will place them within 40 miles of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a distance slightly farther than that between the homes of the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens, two of the most lucrative franchises in the National Football League.
But while the Redskins and Ravens have been successful at sharing a populous and affluent market, sports economists say that may not hold true for the two baseball teams.
Daniel A. Rascher, president of SportsEconomics, a Berkeley, Calif., sports consulting firm, said the Redskins lost fans when the Ravens moved into the area, but not as many as the Orioles are going to lose.
“I don’t know the Orioles current fan base, but I presume that some of those fans drive up from D.C.,” he said.
Rascher added that a drop in attendance at Camden Yards would hurt more than it would across the street at the Ravens’ stadium.
“Football relies much less on its ticket sales,” he said. “The bulk comes from national TV and merchandise.”
David Broughton, research director at Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, agreed the business sides of the two sports are different.
“Certainly the number of events plays a big part in it,” he said. “It’s much easier to support eight home games (for football) than 81 home games (for baseball).”
Broughton said the Expos’ move to Washington will hurt attendance in Baltimore and, therefore, hurt the club financially.
The Orioles are averaging about 34,000 people per game, good for 12th out of 30 clubs. The Expos rank last, averaging fewer than 10,000 per contest. Both team records are below .500 this year.
Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos has been an outspoken opponent of the Expos’ relocation to Washington since the idea was born. He argues that the move will reduce attendance, as well as deplete his lucrative television audience.
Although Angelos has no lawful argument to prevent Montreal from relocating to Washington, MLB and the Baltimore owner are negotiating a deal that will compensate Angelos if the Orioles take a financial hit.
The two sides have not finalized the deal, but ESPN.com reports that it also includes the creation of a regional sports network that would continue to televise Orioles’ games in the Washington and Virginia areas, two spots where Angelos believes he’ll lose fans.
The Orioles’ public relations office said the team has no comment about the arrangement until it is completed.
Rascher said in the end, Major League Baseball serves its own interests first.
“The way these things work, if it’s better for the league, but worse for the incumbent team, then the league will pay off the Orioles,” he said.
Other opponents of the Expos’ move to Washington say it will not only hurt the Orioles, but Baltimore businesses, as well.
Mark Thayer, a professor of sports economics at San Diego State University, said that while it’s easier to fill the stands for a football game, baseball teams comprise a small portion of the economy, and therefore “do not have much impact in either direction” on local businesses.
“What do you think affects Detroit? Is it the Tigers or is it General Motors?” he asked. “It might hurt (the Orioles), but who cares. It doesn’t really affect social aspects. It’s like when one Starbucks hurts another Starbucks.”
According to baseball bylaws, Angelos can block another American League team from moving too close to Baltimore, but cannot do the same with a National League club. The Expos are in the National League East, and a move to Washington would most likely keep them in that division.
The last time a MLB team changed cities was after the 1971 season, when the Washington Senators left the District to become the Texas Rangers. The Senators had an average attendance of 8,241 fans per game that year, then the third lowest in baseball. The team faired no better upon its move to Texas, averaging 8,610 fans per game in 1972. The franchise finished below .500 in both seasons.
The Rangers are averaging 31,936 fans this year. Although they’ll miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time, they were fighting for the AL West championship until the last week of the season.
The Redskins and Ravens sold out all of their home games in 2003, despite Washington’s 5-11 record.
More than 500,000 people live in the Washington area, while 3.95 million live in nine of the Maryland counties surrounding Baltimore. – 30 – CNS-9-29-04