ANNAPOLIS — Despite starting the season in first place in the American League East, the Baltimore Orioles were in the middle of the pack of Major League Baseball teams in terms of attendance during their first two home stands, barely outdrawing the new Washington Nationals.
The Orioles averaged more than 32,000 fans in 13 home games in April, including a high of 48,271 in their home opener, but also drew the two lowest single-game totals in their 13-year history at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Yet it is too early to tell what impact the arrival of the Nationals in Washington — whose ballpark is about 40 miles south of Camden Yards — will have on the Orioles’ long-term attendance, said spokesman Bill Stetka.
“It certainly is going to have an effect,” Stetka said of the District getting its first MLB team since 1971. “We’re still in the observation process.”
The Orioles have drawn more than 35,000 fans to all five home games against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, both division rivals, but drew a stadium-record low 16,301 to an April 18 game against the Detroit Tigers.
That’s a trend that should continue, said George Solomon, former sports editor of The Washington Post who now teaches at the University of Maryland.
Baltimore and Washington are separate markets despite their proximity, Solomon said, but their baseball teams will battle for thousands of Maryland fans in the counties between them.
Many of those fans will jump on the Nationals bandwagon but, because the area is full of New York and New England transplants, they will also go to Orioles games against the Red Sox and Yankees, instead of Nationals games.
Whether the two teams can thrive independently over a whole season, like the Dodgers and Angels in Southern California, Solomon said, “remains to be seen.”
They will benefit in future seasons from non-conflicting home schedules, Stetka said. The Orioles and Nationals both host games on 25 days this season, which Stetka said could not be avoided because the Nats’ schedule was drawn up before they moved to Washington.
“That’s not good for either one of us,” Stetka said.
Neither is losing, and Stetka said that seven straight losing seasons from 1998-2004 also contributed to some of the Orioles’ poor single-game attendance marks.
Ultimately, baseball officials and insiders said, winning and losing should have the biggest impact on the Nationals and Orioles’ attendance.
Patrick Courtney, an MLB spokesman, agreed that it is too early to tell what long-term impact the Nationals will have on Orioles’ attendance.
When asked if he thought both teams would thrive, Courtney paused, then responded: “We certainly hope so.”
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