Seven years ago, John Angelos drew considerable attention for his defense of the public demonstrations, at least the nonviolent variety, that arose in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Not only did the son of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos support free speech, but he acknowledged many of the social ills that have plagued the city as the “American political elite,” he tweeted, “shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore.” It was pretty brave stuff for the normally low-profile family given the realities of Major League Baseball’s predominantly white, older fan base, and it strongly suggested the younger Mr. Angelos fully understood that people living not too far from Camden Yards desperately needed all the financial support they could get.
Now contrast that to the recent news that the Maryland Stadium Authority has quietly acquiesced to the Baltimore Orioles “request” that the team keep all the profits from the upcoming Paul McCartney concert at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, or they may not bring such events in the future. The ultimatum wasn’t seeking more of the profits, but all of them.
This is not unprecedented. The Orioles had a similar arrangement when Billy Joel performed at the ballpark in 2019. Normally, such revenue would be shared, with the MSA collecting 45%. But the quasi-public agency, which owns Oriole Park at Camden Yards, has long had the option to give its share up. The team argued that they were taking all the risks and without reaping all the profits, they had an insufficient incentive to host events. Meanwhile, the MSA still had its 80% slice of the 10% amusement tax on ticket sales (Baltimore gets the remaining 20% of that, incidentally). As Michael Frenz, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, later explained in a letter published in the Baltimore Business Journal (and quoting MSA’s chairman), “8% of something is better than 45% of nothing.”
That’s certainly true, but given that Oriole Park hasn’t hosted another concert since Billy Joel and, indeed, has only hosted one other major event (the mass conducted by Pope John Paul II in 1995), one might also conclude that giving the Orioles all the profits doesn’t pay off either. Do the Orioles have an untold lineup of major performers coming to the Yard that the team has so far not disclosed? We doubt it. Other ballparks do: Fenway Park is not only getting multiple Paul McCartney concerts but its hosting Lady Gaga, Zac Brown Band and Bad Bunny this summer.
Now, we don’t claim to be experts on rock concerts or stadium financing, but we can spot unseemly behavior from a great distance. And we can see a public relations disaster in the making, given the Orioles current posture as cellar dwellers in the American League East and the team’s attendance woes, the combination of which has already cost the Maryland Stadium Authority millions in reduced rent for the team. There’s also its modest payroll, which is ranked among the lowest in pro baseball, despite ownership siting on enormous equity: The franchise purchased for $173 million in 1993 is now estimated to be worth $1.375 billion, according to Forbes). Oh, and did we mention how Gov. Larry Hogan last month signed into law legislation authorizing MSA to borrow $1.2 billion for improvements to both Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium?
Here’s the question that all this raises: Is the Maryland Stadium Authority looking out for the interests of Baltimore and Maryland taxpayers, or is the goal just to keep the Orioles and Ravens fat and happy? There is no shame in that. They are Baltimore-based businesses that are prospering. We need more like them. But if the MSA doesn’t hold its stadium tenants accountable, who does exactly?
At this point, what we’d really like to see is for John Angelos to get back on Twitter and pledge to host more events at Camden Yards — not just to make money for himself or his investors but to provide greater economic opportunities for Baltimoreans who, as he noted years ago, have been denied the jobs they so desperately need. Perhaps he might even pledge some portion of future event revenue to worthy nonprofit organizations that are engaged in this important civic mission, alongside the other charitable organizations the team supports. The Orioles are a beloved local institution. Let’s keep them both in Baltimore and beloved.
All that would require is for the Orioles to put a little bit more of their money where they’ve represented their hearts as being. The MSA’s executive staff and board of directors, meanwhile, might want to work on their landlord skills.
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