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A diamond in the rough: As team rebuilds, Orioles have big plans for its main jewel, Camden Yards

Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Baseball

BALTIMORE -- Orioles' executives, facing the challenge of marketing a team that has lost 100-plus games in each of the last two years, are banking partly on its remaining superstar -- its popular stadium -- to draw in fans with "major headliner concerts" and other events in the near future.

The club says it is exploring updates to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which is still consistently rated among the best in Major League Baseball in fan and media surveys but lacks design elements -- such as open concourses -- that newer stadiums have adopted since Camden Yards opened in 1992.

"There is a lot of planning and development work going on now for what Camden Yards is going to look like for not just next year but five or 10 years from now," said Greg Bader, the team's senior vice president of administration and experience. Among the possibilities "up for conversation" is whether the stadium still needs 46,000 seats, Bader said. Newer venues, such as the Atlanta Braves' Sun Trust Park, Nationals Park in Washington and Marlins Park in Miami, have fewer seats.

Last July, the Orioles broke with more than 25 years of team tradition by holding a concert at the stadium featuring singer Billy Joel. The longtime baseball-only venue joined other iconic ballparks such as Boston's Fenway Park, Chicago's Wrigley Field and Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium that have sought to capitalize on their cachet -- and make money -- in recent years by hosting concerts.

The club believes the sold-out concert can be a model for future marquee events.

"That is not going to be a unique event. That is literally going to be the start of something," said Jennifer Grondahl, senior vice president of community development and communications. "Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a venue, it's a destination for residents, for tourists. We want to use this ballpark not just for baseball but for other concerts, for community events."

 

Bader said fans could anticipate "major headliner concerts like that in the near future."

Bader, Grondahl and T.J. Brightman, the senior vice president and chief revenue officer, were named by the club in October to its new senior management team. Bader and Grondahl had previously been with the team in other posts, while Brightman was hired from his family business, an advertising and public relations company. The changes come a year after the team hired Mike Elias -- formerly with the Houston Astros -- as executive vice president and general manager.

The Orioles face a number of marketing challenges. The team finished 54-108 last season and attendance tumbled to 1.3 million -- an average of 16,347 per home game, the lowest since Camden Yards opened. The Orioles also recently decided to drop FanFest in 2020.

"We want to win more games, we want to win a division title, we want to win a World Series. We want to win many," Brightman said. "But it is really about the impact the ballpark can have on so many, and having them be a part of it all."

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