In his bygone youth with the Baltimore Colts, Jim Mutscheller was called upon to block the National Football League's most carnivorous linebackers, catch passes in a crowd of defenders bent on separating him from the ball and his senses, and then get down to the truly meaningful work of his profession.
"Tickets," the former tight end was remembering the other day, as the brand-new Baltimore Ravens were counting more than 50,000 season-ticket applications for 1997 and happily licking their lips.
"Selling tickets?" he was asked.
"Well, yeah," said Mutscheller. "Kellett [Don Kellett, the Colts' general manager back in the team's early days, who understood that marketing a team meant getting players into the community, shaking all available hands and, as long as they were in the neighborhood, mentioning to everyone the sublime joys of shivering in the upper deck during wind-swept December afternoons] would send us out to give speeches. He'd want us to talk up season tickets. You'd always have people asking, 'How do I get seats?' "
It was a six-game home season back then, and season ticket plans meant you paid for those six games -- period. No preseason contests were thrust upon the customer. If you wanted to attend exhibition games (and lots of people did; in late summers, even the annual intrasquad Police Boys Club charity game would draw packed houses that would make the jealous Orioles drool), it was strictly your choice, and nobody forced anything down your throat.
And the cost?
"Eighteen bucks," Mutscheller remembered.
Not per game.
"In other words," Mutscheller was asked, "$3 a game?"
"For 50-yard line seats," he said. "Of course, you have to remember, I came up in '54. It's a long time ago. But I do remember looking at some 50-yard line tickets in '59. And I saw they'd gone all the way up to $3.50."
Things, in case you hadn't noticed, change.
The Ravens arrive, and the tickets are going for considerable multiples of $3.50. You turn your back, and 1959 disappears over the horizon, and they want $75 for a choice seat, plus more money, hundreds, thousands, for the ransom fee known as a personal seat license.
"Yeah," Mutscheller was saying now, "I have four sons, and they were telling me, 'Dad, you gotta get tickets to the Ravens.' I said, 'What about these PSLs?' They started talking about them as investments, about how somebody in another city put down $1,000, and the PSLs turned out to be worth $40,000 later on."
Mutscheller laughed out loud. He's lived here and sold insurance since his retirement from football in 1961. He played eight seasons for the Colts, blocked magnificently, caught 219 passes, 40 for touchdowns, and each season was paid a tiny percentage of what today's players make -- per game.
Last week, the Ravens announced tickets were moving remarkably well. All 7,800 tickets selling for $75 a seat have already been sold, and more than 50,000 season tickets had been requested -- about 90 percent of the tickets available for their first season here.
Thus, it was reported the Ravens should be tucking about $30 million in the bank in the coming days. They need it, it was explained. Just as ticket prices have risen, so have costs. Art Modell's move here from Cleveland, we're told, is costing the team about $75 million. (Apparently, Mayflower's prices have gone up, too.)
The arrival of professional football turns out to be costly for everyone -- and not only those forking over an average of $400 for a 10-game package, plus $100 deposits per ticket on seat licenses for the new ballpark, set for opening in 1998.
And that's another potentially unanticipated cost: the disappointment in early looks at the Ravens' new, bland stadium designs. But, we're told, any aesthetically induced delays in construction would cost a fortune, and are not to be tolerated.
As for the costly personal seat licenses, there is much talk of fans pooling their resources, chipping in for season tickets that they'll share on a game-by-game basis because paying for the whole package is too expensive.
And yet, the ticket returns indicate what Baltimoreans have always believed, even when those running the NFL seemed to disagree: This is a town famished for pro football.
"It's amazing," Jim Mutscheller was saying. "People I've talked to, I haven't really heard complaints about the prices. I looked at the prices and said, 'Whoo, well, I guess I'll go for the $35 tickets. I didn't know where they were. I assumed they were OK."
In fact, the $35 seats are located out in Memorial Stadium's old outfield. They're end zone seats.
"Right," said Mutscheller, "for $35 apiece. And my sons said, 'Oh, Dad, you gotta get the good seats, not this $35 stuff.' I guess it shows the difference in people's thinking today."
It's a long way from the days when $18 got you an entire season on the 50.
Pub Date: 6/16/96