Team implementing reduced-capacity seating and CDC protocols at Ed Smith Stadium for 2021 season
In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baltimore Orioles managed to generate more than $49 million in economic revenue in Sarasota County between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, with more than $59 million generated in the state during the same period.
That was the news that Jennifer Grondahl, senior vice president for the Orioles, presented to members of Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) during their Feb. 11 meeting.
Since 2015, Grondahl pointed out, the team has been responsible for more than $485 million in economic impact in the county, according to an analysis undertaken by Sarasota County Government staff.
Referring to the changes from the period before the Orioles’ start of Spring Training in 2020 and the situation this year, Grondahl said, “It’s really kind of difficult to imagine.”
In March 2020, she continued, when the Orioles arrived for a Spring Training game in Fort Myers, they were not allowed to disembark the team buses. The Orioles manager called her, she said, and asked, “What’s happening?”
“Our season ended,” is the way Grondahl summed up Major League Baseball’s decision to halt play as the pandemic was worsening nationwide. “We were really, truly affected [by the situation].”
Major League Baseball announced on March 12, 2020 that it was calling off the remainder of Spring Training. The organization said the action was “being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.”
Under normal circumstances, Grondahl noted during the TDC meeting, the Orioles not only plays Spring Training games in Sarasota, but they also host events throughout the year, such as youth baseball tournaments and Arts in the Ballpark concerts.
The team, she said, has focused on the need to be “extremely responsible” to the public as the pandemic has continued. “We were actually the first Major League Baseball team in Florida to close our facilities,” she pointed out, in an effort to try to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Orioles are proud of the fact that they put health and safety considerations first, she added.
Since the team began Spring Training at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota in 2009, she continued, the Orioles have welcomed more than 1 million fans to that facility.
Last year, Grondahl noted, attendees at games spent more than $22.3 million in the county, based on the county’s analysis. Expenditures on hotel rooms added up to more than $3.9 million, she said, while out-of-pocket spending of attendees from out of the county exceeded $24 million. Those who live in the county spent more than $1.2 million, she pointed out.
Thanks to the team’s “strong partnership with Visit Sarasota County” — the county’s tourism office — the Orioles have provided the county more than $11 million in tourism-focused media opportunities, she added; that produced a 300% boost in the number of visitors to Sarasota County from the Mid-Atlantic region.
As she resides in Baltimore, she continued, she has seen the Visit Sarasota County commercials that the Orioles show on their Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN). Grondahl noted that she often hears “that people know more about Sarasota than they do about Baltimore because of the propensity of commercials on MASN.”
Annually, the team’s marketing agreement with Visit Sarasota County has an approximate value that is slightly higher than $1 million, she pointed out. Along with TV spots on MASN, the Orioles provide radio commercial time on their 45 stations throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, plus marketing events at Camden Yards, which is the team’s home in Baltimore.
Further, Grondahl pointed to the fact that more than 160,000 players, family members and spectators have participated in youth baseball tournaments, games and clinics at Ed Smith Stadium and the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex at the county’s Twin Lakes Park. Those activities typically generate more than $10 million a year in economic impact for the county.
However, she continued, “We stopped doing revenue-generating events at the stadium and Twin Lakes last year” because of the pandemic.
On the other hand, she pointed out, the Orioles have started donating “now, more than ever” the use of the stadium to charities such as All Faiths Food Bank and area blood banks, including oneblood. “We are extremely committed” to allowing those organizations to use the facility for free,” she emphasized.
TDC members may have seen photos of “literally, people wrapped around for blocks to collect turkeys around Thanksgiving,” Grondahl noted.
The team itself has donated more than $3.5 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the Sarasota community, she added.
Additionally, the Orioles have been engaged in health and fitness activities within the Sarasota County School District, reaching more than 4,750 students each year with that program, she said.
The 2021 Spring Training season
Turning to Spring Training for 2021, Grondahl pointed out, “We are entering a very interesting season.”
She showed the council members a slide that listed the Orioles’ “four pillars to combat COVID-19”: wearing face coverings, following recommended hygiene practices, practicing social distancing, and increasing testing and vaccinations, with government assistance.
“We will have reduced capacity at Ed Smith Stadium for 2021,” she said, “because that’s our responsibility to keep people safe.”
“In Baltimore,” she pointed out, after the team completed its intake process, “we had no positive test in all of our entire organization for 2020. … Part of that [was a result of] the incredible staff we have …”
The Orioles’ goals are to get people safely back to work and to bring people back to Sarasota, she added, noting that Southwest Airlines was getting ready to launch its new route from Baltimore-Washington International to the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
“Over the years,” Commissioner Nancy Detert, the TDC chair, told Grondahl, “you’ve just been great community partners. We all hope to be back to normal soon.”
When TDC Vice Chair Norman Schimmel asked about the potential that Ed Smith Stadium would have about 25% of the usual Spring Training seating capacity for the 2021 season, Grondahl told him that Major League Baseball would be making announcements the following day. As a result, she said, she could not offer any comments on the seating arrangements.
On Feb. 12, the Orioles did send out notices saying that Spring Training attendance would be limited to approximately 25% capacity, which means 1,833 tickets available for each game.
“The club will implement ‘pod’ seating throughout the ballpark to ensure proper social distancing of at least six feet between each group of ticket holders,” the release noted.
The news release also included the following details:
- “Birdland Memberships and 5-Game Flex Plans” are on sale atOrioles.com/Spring. “All memberships and ticket plans are protected by O’surance,free fan assurance benefit that guarantees the investment in Orioles baseball.”
- Single-game tickets for remaining seats will be available for purchase beginning Saturday, Feb. 20.
(During her presentation to the TDC, Grondahl noted that the day after the remainder of the 2020 Spring Training season was cancelled, the Orioles refunded 100% of the cost of the tickets sold for games that would not be played.)
- “All fans will be required to adhere to the club’s health and safety policies while at the ballpark. These protocols, created in coordination with Major League Baseball, the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] CDC, and public health officials, will require fans to wear CDC-approved masks properly (covering the nose and mouth) at all times. Social distancing practices and enhanced security measures will also be enforced upon entry and throughout the ballpark.
- “Fans are strongly encouraged to utilize digital ticketing for easy and contactless entry to the ballpark.”
- “Fans can access tickets and parking passes on their mobile device through the MLB Ballpark App, logging in with the same email address that was used to purchase the tickets.
- “Additionally, Ed Smith Stadium will not accept any cash payments this season. To limit touch points,” the release noted, fans will be allowed to pay only with credit or debit cards throughout the ballpark, “including at parking lots, concession stands, and ticket windows.”
Further, the team announced a modified spring schedule. The goal, Grondahl told the TDC members, was “to limit travel within the state of Florida.”
She noted that, after the pandemic began in 2020, the team began using six buses instead of two to transport the players to away games. Having experienced that first-hand she said, she could attest to how different it was from the usual type of trip.
Spring Training will commence on Sunday, Feb. 28, at Ed Smith Stadium, when the Orioles will play the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ten afternoon games are on the schedule, all beginning at 1:05 p.m., the Orioles’ news release said. Four night games will start at 6:05 p.m.
The Grapefruit League play will end with the Orioles meeting the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, March 29, the release added.
Commissioner Detert pointed out that the Grapefruit League was Florida’s response to efforts of leaders in the state of Arizona to lure Major League Baseball teams out of Florida. The fact that so many teams conduct Spring Training on the west coast of the Sunshine State is a benefit during the pandemic, Detert continued, noting that the group includes the Rays, the Atlanta Braves (whose first Spring Training season in North Port was conducted in 2020), and the Boston Red Sox.
“So we kind of lucked out by having the perfect plan for a pandemic,” Detert said. “Who knew.”
“We’re very fortunate, and I think this has been a strong example of a public/private partnership,” Grondahl replied, referring to the Sarasota County agreement. In Baltimore, she added, Orioles representatives routinely refer to that partnership.
For more information about the Orioles’ Spring Training schedule this year, visit this link.