With the end of the 2022 regular season arriving on Wednesday, the season has arrived for look backs on what turned out to be a pleasantly surprising year for the Birds.
And, of course, there will be countless previews of the offseason…and the speculation will begin as to what “big name” players the Orioles might add to take that next step toward a playoff spot.
I’d like to take this time, however, to offer some suggestions – completely unsolicited, of course – as to how the Orioles can go about improving the ballpark experience at Camden Yards.
Some of these suggestions are larger in scope, and would likely need to wait for some of that reported $600 million in funding from the state of Maryland to become available. While others are somewhat smaller and easier to take care of…and would likely have a positive impact on the fan experience in 2023 (and potentially increase revenue as well.)
So without further delay, here are…
6 Things the Orioles Should Do to Improve the Fan Experience at Camden Yards
1. Remove the flag court atop the right field wall and install two rows of “green monster-style” seats. Ever since the ballpark opened in 1992 the standing room area at the flag court has been both one of the more interesting and underutilized pieces of real estate in the park. On one hand, it’s great that standing room fans have a place they can still get a good view of the game. But the reality is most games aren’t close to sold out anymore so there are plenty of places for those fans to grab a seat. The Green Monster seats at Fenway Park in Boston have proven to be enormously popular…and the team is able to charge a hefty premium for them. I would limit it to just two rows, however, to protect the view of the warehouse from the seating bowl. But a couple of rows of seats with small tables for food and drink – not unlike the rooftop deck in center field – would quickly become one of the more popular seating areas at Oriole Park.
2. Replace the seats atop the new left field wall with drink rail-style seating similar to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. There’s a good chance that upcoming renovations to Oriole Park will reduce seating capacity somewhat…so why not start with an area where seating has already been reduced?
The drink rail seating in Sarasota is enormously popular among spring training fans and I can imagine similar demand for that type of seating in left field at Oriole Park. I realize that making the same type of change in both left and right field might seem a bit drastic, but with solid marketing – labelling a new “home run porch,” for example – and maybe wait service…I could see people wanting to gather in a more casual way and take in a ballgam
3. Upgrade the scoreboard and sound system. No list of needed renovations at Oriole Park would be complete without these two. But after seeing games this season in San Francisco, Oakland, Washington and Philadelphia…I can say with confidence that the Oriole Park scoreboard and sound system is seriously outdated. (When even the decrepit Oakland ballpark has better Jumbotron screens that Camden Yards, you know it’s time for an upgrade.) This will likely take a while, however, and require tapping into some of that state funding that is supposedly headed the team’s way after a new lease is agreed to.
4. Improve the entry process at the gate. This can be accomplished easily…but it would require the team to roll back some of the cost-cutting personnel moves they’ve made since the 2020 Covid season. Most ballparks in the major leagues open their gates 90 minutes before first pitch, but the Orioles have been at 60 minutes ever since the start of the 2021 season. This seemed like a reasonable reaction to the Covid pandemic, but all it seems to do now is cause long lines at the gates one hour before game time and prevent fans from watching batting practice, shopping at the team stores and buying extra concessions. In addition, the O’s have reduced the number of gates that are open (both before and after games) and that simply creates more bottlenecks. I understand the team trying to save a few bucks on staffing, but it’s coming at the expense of the fan experience…and now should be the time when the team is very much focused on making that experience the best it could possibly be.
5. Dramatically improve mobile ordering of concessions. There’s nothing worse in terms of the fan experience than missing an inning or two while waiting in line for food and drinks. Fans have already paid expensive prices for tickets…and the food and beverages is also dramatically overpriced. That’s all fine – it’s part of the deal we accept as fans for the convenience and enjoyment of having a snack or drink at the ballgame. But since 2021 the Orioles have seemed woefully unprepared for crowds over 15,000. Long concession lines…food that is often unavailable…delays with credit card processing. All of these things make for angry, upset fans – and there’s no good reason for it.
This is 2022 – we have the technology to make mobile ordering a reality. I realize the team has offered this at times, but I’ve never had a great experience with it. I could envision a two-tiered offering of mobile ordering: a “premium” level where a runner delivers your food to your seats – for an added delivery fee. And also an “economy” level where you place your order and then – after receiving a confirmation text – you go pick up the food yourself at a designated location. The key would be minimizing the amount of time the fan spends away from his or her seat. That’s a service I would be willing to pay for. (And I realize there is some benefit to having fans wander the concourse and potentially make multiple purchases. That is a reality of the concessions business I won’t ignore. But I’d argue that those fans are likely to do that anyway…this would just be a way to help those fans who want to watch the game but still spend on food and drink to accomplish both goals.)
6. Place hundreds of more televisions on the concourse. This goes hand-in-hand with item #5…it’s incredibly frustrating to be in the concourse waiting for food or the restroom and not know what’s happening in the game. I realize there are way more televisions in the Camden Yards concourse than there were in the old days at Memorial Stadium.
But since a truly “open” concourse isn’t possible in our ballpark, there should never be a stretch of more than, say, 50 feet where there isn’t a large flat screen television easily visible to all fans. These screens are so inexpensive nowadays that it’s shocking this hasn’t already happened. But there are many stretches of concourse – on all three levels of Oriole Park – where it’s impossible to follow what’s happening on the field. Again…it just shouldn’t happen. If I’m paying the money to leave my couch and watch the game in-person – and pay big dollars for food and drink – I should never feel like I’m getting a worse experience than I would have if I’d stayed at home.