What if you held a baseball game and nobody came?
It happened in Baltimore last week, but not because people weren’t interested in attending. The Baltimore Orioles game against the Chicago White Sox was held in a stadium entirely devoid of fans after rioting closed many businesses in the city. The resulting game hurt a local economy that depends on baseball for its livelihood. How much, though, is anyone's guess.
According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “on Monday, this city buried Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died mysteriously in police custody earlier this month, and that night, Baltimore began to burn: riots; looting; 235 arrests made; fires set in 144 vehicles and 15 buildings, according to the Baltimore Sun; the power of peaceful protest overwhelmed by anger and opportunism; Maryland state troopers and the National Guard moving in to restore order.
For the sake of public safety, and after having postponed two games already, the Orioles, the White Sox, and Major League Baseball agreed to play Wednesday at 2 p.m. instead of 7:05. The Orioles also elected to relocate what would have been three home games this weekend against the Tampa Bay Rays; the teams will play instead at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. A team spokesman said the Orioles had not calculated how much revenue, from parking fees and concessions, these decisions would cost the franchise, and to the Orioles' credit, no one affiliated with them seemed concerned with such considerations.”
Without question, there’s a negative economic impact to closing one game to spectators and moving others to another city. It affects the team, vendors and local businesses. But the exact numbers are hard to come by.
According to an article in the Baltimore Business Journal, a number of factors come into play. ESPN notes that the average attendance at Orioles games this year has been 33,288, while the average ticket price is $24.97, according to Team Marketing Report. Micheline Maynard, director of the Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, multiplied those numbers and estimated the loss in ticket sales for each game at $831,291. Chris Bigelow, a food service consultant, said the average baseball fan spends anywhere from $15 to $20 on merchandise, food and beverages while at a game.
Those are just tickets and food sales at the ballpark, though. Restaurants, shops, sports bars and other businesses in the Baltimore area lost business that would have been generated by a ballgame – but it was almost impossible to quantify how much had been lost, since many had closed their doors and boarded their windows as a precaution when the violence started. Three conventions, scheduled to be held in Batlimore, cancelled their events; such meetings generally provide opportunities for ball game tickets as well as food and beverage and merchandise sales, but the exact amount of lost income there is unknown as well.
The Orioles beat the Sox that Wednesday. Many fans gathered in the remaining open establishments in the area to watch; others, too intimidated to make the drive, tuned into the televised game or turned on radios. A few brave individuals clustered around the gates to the ballpark and peered in, cheering loudly at the action on the field. Others gathered at a nearby hotel to watch.
A campaign on Facebook encouraged Baltimore fans (or anyone in solidarity with the city) to do a virtual “check-in” to the ballpark at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
"A game with no fans, but they were out at the hotel," center fielder Adam Jones told Reuters. "You could see on the balcony; you could hear them outside the gates. A lot of people were telling me to look up the check-ins on Facebook. So there were people around supporting, just not inside the stadium."
It was the first game in Major League History where the official attendance for the game was zero. Camden Yards' official capacity is 45,971. Three scouts sat behind home plate with their radar guns and their notebooks. The other 45,968 seats, each painted green, were empty. The press box was full. Aerial shots captured the eerie scene of the players on the field surrounded by stands devoid of fans.
The shouting of rioters and looters around the city was terrifying. But inside the stadium, the silence was deafening, and spoke more loudly than anything else about a city gone mad.