Ravens' price gouging no way to begin an affair

August 29, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

"Love is lovelier/the second time around." -- famous lyric sung by Frank Sinatra, sometimes correct, maybe not always.

"What's love got to do with it?" -- famous lyric sung by Tina Turner, who seems to know.

There are now three days remaining until the Baltimore Ravens commence their actual National Football League history. There have elapsed 12 years, five months and three days since the Baltimore Colts ended theirs. Such arithmetic is all that is required to calculate the difference between love and money.

Nobody expected time to stand still when the Ravens arrived to fill the void left by the Colts. Nobody expected an immediate love affair to rival the compelling three-decade romance on 33rd Street when Unitas pitched to Berry and Moore, when Donovan and Big Daddy and Gino met at the quarterback, when a breathless Linhart somehow found the goal posts through that impossible December fog.

Such affairs of the heart take time. But who imagined the new suitor would arrive with such expensive needs? Who anticipated the leaps of economic forces involved in Baltimore regaining a place in pro football?

For Ravens ticket holders, reports The Sun's Jon Morgan, the new math is this: Their team's home games will be the fourth most expensive in the National Football League. A ticket-holding family of four seeking minimal refreshment and souvenirs will pay $243.11.

Per game.

That's according to a survey by Team Marketing Report of Chicago, which points out that the average -- average -- Ravens' ticket price is not only $40.53, but that it's nearly 25 percent more than the club charged last year when it played in Cleveland's rickety Municipal Stadium and far less than anticipated ticket and personal-seat license costs at the new ballpark.

Yes, yes, things change.

When the Baltimore Colts arrived here 43 autumns ago, you could get two tickets on the 50-yard line for $6. The ballplayers took home maybe $5,000 a year in the beginning, and maybe $20,000 a year during the legendary championship years of the late '50s, when they spent their off-seasons laboring at Sparrows Point, or hustling for beer distributors, or learning the insurance business, and their off-hours hanging out with working-class folks at saloons like Gussie's Downbeat in Highlandtown and Sweeney's on Greenmount Avenue, where they became neighbors and not just professional hired hands.

Today, when top draft choices sign for millions before they've even stiffed their first innocent autograph seeker, ticket holders pay the freight. The ballplayers, newly and unimaginably wealthy, distance themselves from the fans. And, while we anticipated ticket inflation, who knew the extent of it?

The Ravens, already bankrolled by $75 million in "moving expenses," already fat and happy recipients of a new $200 million ballpark, raise ticket prices 25 percent over last year? Come on, guys; around the whole greedy, overstuffed NFL, ticket prices rose only 6.6 percent -- which is three times the inflation rate.

Yes, yes, fans have to realize this ain't 1958, it's the modern era. Well, the baseball team known as the Orioles plays in the modern era. And their ticket prices -- fifth-highest in baseball -- aren't cheap. But they average $13.14, which is a long way from $40.53.

(And a long way from $31.76 a ticket, the fifth-lowest in the NFL. Where do they pay that? In a place called Indianapolis, where they came within a single pass of reaching the Super Bowl last year.)

Art Modell paid a price for his years in Cleveland. The accountants say he was losing big money there, partly from his miserable ballpark and partly from his own spending habits. He paid an emotional price coming here, too. They hate him in Cleveland the way we hate Robert Irsay. They sent Modell death threats. He'd called the place home for a long time.

Modell's a man of calculating wit and charm. He knows the right thing to say most of the time. But it's tough to justify this kind of price gouging. Love may yet be lovelier the second time around -- for Modell, and for Baltimore -- but this is not the way to begin an affair.

This was always a football town. Peter Angelos knew that when he urged his general manager, Pat Gillick, to hold onto Bobby Bonilla and David Wells a few weeks ago. Gillick wanted to trade them for prospects. Angelos, knowing the Ravens were around the corner, knowing fans can be fickle if his Orioles roll over, knowing the history of football around here, said no.

Modell remembers when this was a football town, too. He remembers Unitas and Moore, and Bert Jones and Lydell Mitchell, and crowds that filled the ballpark until a sense of revulsion set in with Irsay and killed everything.

Baltimore's love is there for the asking, but not the taking. At these prices, fans will feel they're being played for suckers. Modell has the look of Tina Turner asking, What's love got to do with it? -- when he's got all these hungry people who will apparently pay whatever they're asked.

He shouldn't mistake their money for love. It so happens, he will be needing both.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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