Yesterday I wrote about how the Baltimore Orioles would soon have a neighbor in the Sarasota area in the Atlanta Braves. However there’s little doubt that Orioles’ spring training has quickly become one of the hottest tickets in Florida. They’ve set attendance records at Ed Smith Stadium nearly every year since moving there in 2010, and teams literally line up to play the Orioles in their spring home yard.
So…how did that happen? First off, it came to be due to the fact that the O’s identified that they played in one of the worst facilities in MLB in Fort Lauderdale Stadium. It got to the point to where they were having a tough time convincing teams to come and play them. Furthermore similar to Atlanta’s issue, the bus rides to away games were getting longer and longer – many teams were moving to the Gulf Coast, and the ones who still were on the Atlantic side weren’t all the way down in southern Florida.
So when the Reds moved into the Arizona Cactus League, it left Sarasota wihtout a tenant. The Orioles had actually played there for one season in 1991, so they jumped on what the Reds left behind and moved in. However before they did so, they engaged in a massive outreach program to the Sarasota community. This effectively made Sarasota as much a part of Birdland as anywhere in the greater Baltimore area.
After that outreach program and after the team had actually moved there, they began renovating Ed Smith Stadium little by little. It quickly became “the place” to catch spring training baseball, and teams were lining up to play games there because of the great facility the Orioles had created. And in investing so much money in the ballpark and the community, the fans have consistently rewarded the Orioles by coming out in droves and helping to support the team.
Obviously, many of the fans who come to Orioles games in Florida do come down from Baltimore. However the Orioles also have strong “season ticket” sales in Sarasota, which in essence are local companies investing in their town’s spring team. One would think that tickets to a big league spring training game would be a great client gift – most games are in the afternoon, people can take a day off of work, etc.
So to teams looking to alter their spring training experience, the Orioles are really an example to be seen. It’s not just if you build it they will come. That probably goes without saying in a sense. If you want them to come and stay, you have to remain engaged. Look no further than last week’s FanFest, which every year is sponsored by the Sarasota County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.