Ravens waiting for ratings Television: Unconcerned by somewhat stagnant numbers, club officials say time, tradition and victories will help build a stronger following among local TV viewers.

November 01, 1996|By Milton Kent and Mike Preston | Milton Kent and Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

With the exception of the Ravens' Oct. 13 game with Indianapolis, the team's games have won their TV time slots handily against all competition, including Orioles games.

However, from the first week, when the Ravens-Raiders game posted a 19.0 rating and 48 share -- impressive but below that of other NFL cities such as Washington and Denver -- observers from around the league and networks have wondered about the city's interest in watching NFL games.

No game since the opener has come within either two ratings points or nine share points of the Sept. 1 game, even after the Orioles' season concluded almost three weeks ago.

Phil Stolz, vice president and general manager of Channel 11, which is carrying 13 of the Ravens' 16 regular-season games, said he's happy with the team's popularity on the station and expects their games to reach about a 20 rating.

"First, we're pleased that the stadium is sold out, so we have the games," Stolz said. "Secondly, we think our numbers, given the environment they were in put us in great shape."

Ravens executive vice president David Modell, who heads the team's marketing department, also expressed some disappointment with the ratings, but was as optimistic as Stolz.

"We were initially a little bit disappointed, but it was because of our own expectations coming from Cleveland," said Modell. "But our numbers are comparable to other cities throughout the league except those that have strong traditions such as Dallas and Denver. We have to work harder to build a stronger following."

Members of the Ravens' organization and Stolz point to a number of reasons -- being a new team with a losing record, the Orioles' success, warm weather -- for the ratings performance.

Modell remembers the franchise's days in Cleveland, when the Browns pulled in a 20-21 rating and consistently outdrew the Indians, the city's baseball team.

"We came from a market that had good football from 1946 until 1995, and those generations had grown accustomed to viewing patterns," said Modell. "We have to remember that we're in a market that hasn't had football for 13 years. Baltimore has had an entire generation that learned to do other things on fall Sunday afternoons."

Stolz agreed.

"Whether they came from Cleveland or not, it's a brand-new team in this market," he said. "They changed the name and the uniforms, which really gave it the feel of a brand-new team, which in the long run will be better for Baltimore."

Winning also would have helped the Ravens. The team is 3-5 and struggled early with some ugly losses. The Ravens have played better and more entertaining football in their last four games, but have won only one of those games.

"Winning is the best marketing tool you can imagine," said Modell. "We have to let people know that we're going to put the best team on the field possible. It will all come in time."

Stolz and Modell disagree over the impact of the Orioles. Stolz points to the fact that two Orioles games aired directly against the Ravens, as the baseball team was fighting for a playoff spot, and contributed to what might be perceived as a weak ratings delivery.

Modell said the Orioles helped the Ravens.

"I think the Orioles forced people into a different viewing pattern in September," said Modell. "This was a town that went without pro sports for a while in September through December. I think the sports fan stayed interested after the Orioles finished."

Stolz said: "You have a huge fan base for the Orioles and a huge fan base for the Ravens. You're not going to have two games both doing a 25 rating. It's just not going to happen, especially in early fall when the weather's nice."

It has been usually warm in September and October, and Modell said the Ravens have had to contend with trips to the beach and other late and last-minute vacations.

"This is going to take some cultivation," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president of public relations. "I think it's going to take a dramatic turn. It's going to take a game on the road, in bad weather where people are watching TV, and we're going to have to win a game that no one is expecting us to win. We have no 50-year history here."

The Ravens keep stressing history.

Modell said the team is doing extremely well economically. The Ravens have a season-ticket base of 57,000 and expect it to grow to at least 61,000 when the new stadium opens for the 1998 season. The Ravens already have sold 87 of 99 available suites for their new home.

In the long run, Stolz said the new stadium will bolster the team's popularity, both in the stands and on television.

In the short term, Stolz said the absence of the Orioles as competition for Baltimore sports fans' attention, and the onset of colder weather, which tends to drive people indoors to watch television, should boost the Ravens' ratings.

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