Q&A With Greg Bader – Spring Training, Camden Yards and The New Ticket Policy…

Last week, the blog sent some questions to Greg Bader – Director of Communications of the Baltimore Orioles – that centers more on the fan experience for the upcoming season.

The topics touched upon in this Q&A include the teams’s new Spring Training home in Sarasota, a little bit of what fans should expect at Camden Yards in April, and the new “day-of-game” ticket policy.

What should fans who are heading to Florida expect to encounter in Sarasota — the Orioles’ new Spring Training Home for 2010. Can you tell us a little about the facilities at Ed Smith Stadium? How has the reception been so far with the team in town?

As demonstrated by a very successful mid-November FanFest at Ed Smith and this weekend’s potentially record-setting lines for spring training tickets, Sarasota residents and the business community have enthusiastically embraced the Orioles.  To say we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support would be an understatement.  I am told by many individuals who worked for the Reds that the enthusiasm being generated this year is like nothing seen before in Sarasota. I believe the residents know how close they came to losing Spring Training, which has been a fixture in this community uninterrupted since the mid-1920s.  The deal with the Orioles, which represents a true year-round partnership between the club and the community, is one that folks in Sarasota know is a mutually beneficial relationship.
Ed Smith Stadium itself certainly represents an upgrade over the facilities we had in Fort Lauderdale. The ballpark is quite charming and will be undergoing some changes prior to the games in March, including painting and installation of Orioles logos, pennants and other historical elements.  Like most Spring Training facilities, the layout of the complex affords the opportunity for a significant amount of interaction between players and fans–something that makes Spring Training so special.  I am confident that fans who travel to Sarasota will be excited to find a welcoming environment both at the ballpark and around town.

I know a few people in the Fort Lauderdale who were sad that the Orioles decided to move their Spring Training home across the state. Did the organization attempt to stay in the area or consider any other facilities in that part of the state?

For many years, the Orioles worked with the City of Fort Lauderdale, Broward County and the State of Florida to reach a long-term agreement to keep the club in Fort Lauderdale. An agreement was reached between all parties, including funding sources, but unfortunately was derailed by the FAA (which owned the land where Fort Lauderdale Stadium stood and where the proposed new ballpark would be built). After many years of working towards and ultimately reaching a long-term agreement in Fort Lauderdale, this decision was obviously a disappointment to us and to our many fans in the area.  Ultimately, however, we are extremely excited that Sarasota presented itself as an opportunity to become the long-term home of the Orioles.

In addition, is the team looking to perhaps get some of those fans in that part of the state over to Sarasota to see the Orioles and perhaps keep them part of things?

We have looked into partnering with a bus company to run a service from Fort Lauderdale to Sarasota; however, we have not found a cost-effective solution that fans in Fort Lauderdale would be willing to pay. That said, we have heard from many of our Fort Lauderdale ticket holders that they want tickets to select games in Sarasota and plan to come across the state several times each to see the games on their own.

There’s been some concern that the team has not done enough to keep some of the ex-Orioles as part of the organization. Recently, it looks as if the Orioles have taken steps to improve that situation by hiring ex-players to fill in spots at the minor league level. Is there anything planned on the major league level – PR wise, etc. – that fans will be able to see in Baltimore?

The club has an extremely proud history and has always embraced bringing back former players to be honored and held ceremonies recognizing great teams of the past.  Many former players have served as coaches, scouts and front office personnel. Last year we launched the Orioles Alumni Association which helped the club provide even more opportunities for former players to appear at Oriole Park.  Our Alumni Autograph Series brought back a total of 40 former Orioles to meet and sign autographs for fans prior to each Monday and Thursday home game.  We will have the same program this year as well.
Additionally, as you know, this year represents the 40th Anniversary of the 1970 World Series Champs, so we will be honoring that team with a special Turn Back the Clock event (a date will be announced early next week). Expect to see nearly every member of the team back for a special reunion weekend.

The economy, as we all know is still fairly shaky, and a lot of teams ushered new ways to get fans into ballparks. Are the Orioles planning on revamping or adding programs/promotions to get fans into Camden Yards in 2010?

The entire Birdland Stimulus Package returns in 2010… Tuesday Bargain Nights; Thursday Kids Nights; Friday Student Nights; Junior Orioles Dugout Club; All-You-Can-Eat Picnic Perch; and the Free Birthday Ticket Program. These cost-savings ticket programs have all proved to be popular so we are not changing them for the coming season.  Additionally, the 2110 Eutaw Street promotion will be back for 5 different weekend dates (dates to be announced next week, but details on the program will be announced at a later date).

Now that Camden Yards is closing in on it’s 20th anniversary, were there any improvements or additions made to ballpark in the off-season? If not, will there be any more additions made in the next few years?

The Maryland Stadium Authority did move forward with a planned deferred maintenance program to replace all lower level seats between the foul poles. After removing the old seats, the MSA had the concrete reinforced in certain areas and new seats will be installed. Plans are for the process to continue throughout the rest of the ballpark (lower level outfield, club level and upper deck) prior to the 2011 season.
Of course in the recent past, major upgrades to the video boards and televisions throughout the ballpark, to the video control room and to the audio system within the seating bowl have been made, helping the Orioles provide an improved ballpark entertainment experience.

Other changes fans can expect to see in the coming years have not yet been formalized, but it is safe to assume that additional enhancements will take place to various areas throughout the ballpark in the coming years.

Why did the Orioles decide this season to institute a ‘day-of-game’ ticket fee? Based on the responses online on various websites from fans, the new program is not very popular right now. Will it still affect discounted games — i.e., Student Night — that have a strong walk-up crowd?

Any time ticket prices are increased, the decision is not going to be popular with fans, and we understand this.  But in an effort to keep Orioles baseball the most affordable entertainment option in the region, we kept season ticket prices the same and also kept prices the same on 75% of our games, when tickets are bought at least 24 hours in advance.  With some advance planning, many fans will not have to pay any price increase for tickets over previous years.  The exceptions of course are a modest 10% increase on prime games and a small increase for tickets purchased the day of a game.  The average difference in price for tickets purchased on a gameday is just $2, so we do not believe this will negatively impact attendance.

We do not plan to alter the cost of Student Night tickets or Dugout Club tickets purchased on a gameday.  Bargain Night tickets purchased on a gameday will cost $9 instead of $8.