I missed this on Sunday — probably because it ran in something called the Baltimore Post-Examiner that is run by former daily-paper journalists and is a mix of news reporting, poetry, and song lyrics (?) — but former Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Examiner columnist Michael Olesker claims that unnamed sources tell him that with Baltimore Orioles principal owner (or, as the Post-Examiner spells it, “principle owner”) Peter Angelos now 90 years old, the team could be sold or moved to Nashville, Tennessee:
If the family were to sell, that means another complication: Would they sell to local investors, or to out-of-town owners who might move the team? The lease on Oriole Park, which helps tie the team to Baltimore, ends in 2021.
One rumor has the family retaining ownership but the club moving to Nashville, where [Peter’s son] John Angelos and his wife have one of their homes. That rumor takes on legitimacy mainly because of sinking attendance at Oriole Park.
Okay, so about that “sinking attendance”: While Orioles attendance is indeed in the toilet — third to last in MLB at present, ahead of only the two Florida teams — it was over 30,000 a game as recently as 2014, when the O’s made it to the American League Championship Series. The team currently has the second-worst record in baseball and is playing like it doesn’t even belong in the league, so it really shouldn’t be any surprise that fans are finding other things to do with their time.
A relocation to Nashville might not seem that crazy on mere demographic grounds — Baltimore and Nashville are about the same size in terms of TV households — but there are other benefits to staying put. In addition to a stadium that, at what now passes for the advanced age of 27, is routinely ranked as the most popular in baseball and continues to draw out-of-town fans, the Orioles were granted control of the Washington Nationals‘ TV rights when the former Montreal Expos moved to D.C. in 2005, and reportedly continue to take a cut of Nats’ TV profits before passing along fees to that club. (The issue is the subject of never-ending lawsuits.) Leaving Baltimore would not only mean giving up that tasty slice of TV money, but, as Maury Brown notes in Forbes, possibly paying a cut of Nashville TV revenue to the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds, who currently share the Nashville market as far as TV rights go.
The question then, as it always should be with unnamed sources, is what’s their motivation for leaking this news? It could certainly be people close to the Angeloses trying to drum up enthusiasm for a local buyer to step forward — buy the Orioles or we’ll shoot this team — or even conceivably for a new push for subsidies to improvements to Camden Yards, something that was rumored to be in the works back in 2015 when the Orioles still employed professional baseball players, but hasn’t been heard much about now that Baltimoreans don’t even want to give the O’s their ticket money, let alone cash for stadium upgrades. Or it could just be somebody speculating hey, John Angelos has a house in Nashville (among other places), maybe he’d move the team there? Really hard to say without knowing more about the sources, which is yet another reason why unnamed sources should be used only as a last resort.
Olesker does go on to write that “knowledgeable sources say the family would much rather sell — and keep the club in Baltimore, if a local buyer can be found,” so clearly even the sources are mostly just saber-rattling. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on, especially with that lease expiration coming up: Peter Angelos hasn’t been one to play extortion games with Baltimore, but that could certainly change if ownership passes to his sons or to a new buyer entirely. Stay tuned — but not to Orioles games, unless you like bleak comedy.