Team officials say more fans turned out for the Baltimore Ravens second summer in Westminster, but Carroll County tourism officials reported a 50 percent decrease in the number of people stopping by their information booth during the five-week training camp that ended last week. And most local merchants say the team's presence at Western Maryland College had little or no impact.
The Ravens returned to Westminster last month as part of a contract that will bring the National Football League team to the WMC campus for the next four summers. The team began training at the college last year for its inaugural season in Baltimore after moving to Maryland from Cleveland.
After two summers, the excitement surrounding the team's stays in Westminster seems to have worn off.
"They're there, they're going to be there, and it's not going to affect our operations too much," said Troy Lochner, bar manager at Johannson's Dining House on Main Street. "It was business as usual."
Robert E. Eller, the Ravens' director of operations and information, estimated that 25,000 people came to see the team practice, 5,000 more than last year. He said the team's two daily practice sessions each drew about 1,000 fans.
Ravens officials described this year's training camp as a success and said it was much improved over last year's, mainly because the college and the team had more time to prepare.
College makes team welcome
"We were in such a state of transition and flux last year," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' director of public relations. "This year they [college officials] clearly made us a focus," Byrne said.
Western Maryland College built a practice field to accommodate the Ravens, upgraded the locker room and expanded the nearby Comfort Inn, the college-owned hotel where the team stays during training camp.
Byrne said there seemed to be much more of a connection between fans and players at this year's camp.
"It was more intimate," he said. "There's a familiarity developing between fans and players, not only at training camp but in general."
The Ravens reported an increase in visitors to training camp, but Carroll County tourism officials had a less optimistic report. Barbara Beverungen, the county's tourism administrator, said the number of people who stopped by the tourism booth adjacent to the Ravens practice fields fell significantly, from more than 9,700 last year to 4,080 this year, a decrease of 57 percent.
"The numbers aren't there," said Beverungen, who theorized that many of the people who came to this summer's training camp were repeat visitors and had picked up tourism information earlier.
"They've heard the spiel," said Beverungen, who is optimistic that the Ravens will generate more interest in Carroll County attractions. "We do have them for four more years, and I think the numbers will improve each summer."
Melvin Mills, chairman of the Ravens Welcoming Committee, said the county won't see immediate results from the team's presence but will benefit in the long run.
"People will come to practice and think, 'Oh, I like it here, let's come back to Carroll County for the Wine Festival.' "
On the business front, Westminster merchants have lowered their expectations regarding Ravens-related sales increases after last year's disappointment.
Not the Colts
Predictions by city officials that players and fans would descend in droves on restaurants and shops didn't materialize. Comparisons to the Baltimore Colts -- who trained at Western Maryland College from 1956 to 1971 and frequented area restaurants and bars -- were unavoidable.
Byrne pointed out that unlike the Colts, the Ravens have almost no free time in their schedule.
"The schedule does not allow the participation in the community beyond hanging out on campus," Byrne said.
Joe Markowitz, owner of Joe's Deli on Main Street, said he didn't expect to see players strolling around town but that a team-sponsored event involving the community would have gone a long way toward improving relations with local merchants.
"The Ravens and the coaches and the staff have a job to do" at training camp, Markowitz said. "But I would think the Ravens public relations department could have a couple players come downtown and sign some autographs."
Despite their busy practice schedule, a flock of Ravens found time to dine at Ruby Tuesday's on Route 140 in Westminster.
"They came in all the time," said Manager Patricia Corbin Banks. The players who were regular customers included Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander, Vinny Testaverde, Eric Zeier, Antonio Langham, Orlando Brown, Earnest Byner and Wally Williams.
"We tried not to bother them while they were eating," Banks said. "But afterward they signed our poster."
Although Banks spotted more Ravens than most local merchants, she said the fans were scarce.
"I dreamed up hordes of people coming in after practice," Banks said. "But in the real world, they go down to practice, get autographs and go about their business."
Pub Date: 8/19/97