Matthew Taylor: Orioles’ road attendance and why it matters

I’m jealous of Orioles fans who are visiting Wrigley Field this weekend. I love Wrigley and wish that I had been able to make the trip out there. If the Baltimore chatter amounts to anything, there will be a lot of orange in them thar stands as fans take advantage of a golden opportunity to experience one of baseball’s historic gems.

The draw of Wrigley Field is obvious; you can understand why fans would make a weekend of it. Perhaps it’s not only about the ballpark, though. O’s fans seem to be popping up in greater numbers at visiting ballparks these days.

I enjoyed the Roar from the Anacostia Shore when the Orioles played in D.C. in July, but I simply attributed it to proximity and holdover O’s fans. It’s been fun to see more O’s fans at Fenway Park in recent years - especially this guy - but I’ve assumed that acrimony toward the Red Sox and bitterness about the Camden Yards takeovers of the past explain that increase. After seeing so much O’s gear on MASN during this week’s series with the White Sox, I finally came to wonder, where did all these Orioles fans come from?

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about bandwagon fans. If your fandom went dormant during the team’s darkest days, feel free to have it erupt now. It doesn’t bother me any. (Just don’t be obnoxious about it at other teams’ ballparks.) This also isn’t a post about the Orioles’ road show, though it could be given the team’s 39-26 record away from Baltimore’s cozy confines. Rather, this is a post about what for me is an unlikely topic: road attendance and why it matters.

I can remember puzzling over road attendance figures as a kid when I checked the box scores in the newspaper. They seemed like meaningless numbers at the time, yet here I am writing about them years later.

I revisited road attendance this week and realized that it can tell me more than I once realized, including providing an indication that baseball is indeed back in Baltimore, but not for the reason you might think.

Relatively speaking, the Orioles do not tend to be a big draw on the road. Since 2001 (which is as far back as the numbers I have go), the O’s peaked at No. 14 in road attendance among major league teams. More often, they rank in the 20s.

Large-market teams are the biggest attractions. The Yankees often top the list for road attendance with the Dodgers and Red Sox nearby. Those Cubs who the O’s are playing this weekend tend to hang out around the top five in road attendance as well.

Beyond the obvious - bigger market, bigger fanbase - lies a more interesting reality, one that suggests Baltimore is on its way back to being a strong baseball town.

Last season, Baltimore’s home attendance average was larger than its road attendance average for the first time since 2005. The O’s are on pace to repeat that effort again this year and widen the gap between the two attendance figures (currently 30,924 at home versus 28,530 on the road). This suggests to me a restored local interest in the hometown nine. It’s a more subtle indicator of the health of the fanbase than the overall home attendance figure alone provides.

Aside from Boston, where Fenway’s capacity is less than 38,000, having a larger average attendance on the road than at home suggests fan apathy to me.

Tampa Bay and Cleveland currently average 10,000 more fans per night on the road than they do at home. Other teams with an average crowd that’s 5,000 or more fans larger on the road than it is at home include the White Sox, Marlins, Astros, Diamondbacks and Padres. It’s not a particularly inspiring list.

The Orioles fell into that apathetic grouping as recently as 2010 and 2011 when they were drawing, on average, 6,000 more fans on the road. Both were awful seasons that came as part of an extended run of losing.

The teams who are drawing an average home crowd that’s 5,000 or more fans larger than their average crowd on the road this season are the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals, Tigers, Angels, and Rangers. Some of the best baseball towns are in that mix.

Regardless of location, it’s great to see fans taking pride in the Birds again. That pride had been missing for far too long.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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