Marketing the Ravens Taking flight: Merchandising commences, but passion won't be manufactured.

June 06, 1996

IF AMERICANS exude a greater passion for something besides its sports teams, we're at a loss as to what it could be. Discussion of politics and regional problems might glaze folks' eyes, but they can debate for weeks whether Cal should play third.

Such fascination translated yesterday into thousands of people packing the Gallery at Harborplace to see Baltimore's new National Football League team unveil its new helmet and uniforms. When strapping quarterback Vinny Testaverde trotted out in his purple and gold regalia, a roar erupted from the crowd as if they'd been cheering Mr. Testaverde and the Ravens half their lives.

One can snigger at this sporting obsession. One can marvel at it, like a force of nature. The third option, available to those who own teams, is to capitalize on it. That they do. The mere act of creating a logo for the Ravens -- a "B" with a fierce wingspan and a Crossland crest borrowed from the Maryland state flag -- was carried out with hushed precision. Initial impressions seem positive, especially the fact that the symbol is dominated by a "B" for Baltimore, helping erase some of the "B" for bitterness felt for a dozen years after the Colts bolted.

Milking this cash cow isn't without challenges, however. The process of securing a team and solidifying stadium financing left open wounds. The Ravens also hope to play off the historic affections for the Colts, but cannot seem mawkish about it. Putting a smile on Personal Seat Licenses is another hurdle.

A great many fans, however, will have no problem overlooking these issues in buying tickets and merchandise. Those for whom sports is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition may scoff at this as further evidence of sports commercialism run amok. But they are mistaken if they think the strong desire to root for and believe in a team are fabricated in some marketing department. Such devotion runs deep, even for a team just now taking flight.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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