With O's, Ravens home today, fans choose nest Sports: Baltimore's two major teams have regular-season home games on the same day, a rarity that underscores the competition for attendance, advertisers and TV ratings.

August 31, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Today's rare double bill of Orioles and Ravens home games represents a quandary for the city's sporting faithful: Which game to attend?

Although Baltimore has had major-league baseball and football on and off for the better part of 40 years, the two sports have maintained a polite distance. For most of those years, the teams shared a stadium and couldn't play on the same day. And beginning next year, they will share a parking lot, making same-day games a practical impossibility.

But today, for perhaps the first and last time, they will go head-to-head with regular-season games, a vivid illustration of the newfound competition for the attention, affection and allegiance of Baltimore's fans.

Up for grabs are millions of dollars worth of television ratings, attendance and sponsorships.

"They can be both competitive and complementary," Jim Bailey, the Ravens' executive vice president/legal and administration, said of the cross-town rivalry.

"Sometimes, the teams feed off each other's success. But if you go head-to-head, the fans have some choices to make," Bailey said.

Fans like Frank Fillmore of Ellicott City, who holds season tickets to both teams, faces a family schism. His wife leans strongly toward baseball, he less so. Their 14-year-old daughter prefers football, a sport their 10-year-old son has no interest in.

Today's games start a few hours apart, but if the Orioles-New York Mets game lasts more than 2 1/2 hours, it would overlap with the Ravens' opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars -- making attending both games virtually impossible.

So where will the Fillmores be today?

"I will go to the football game and listen to the baseball game on my headset," said Fillmore, a computer consultant.

That's the opposite of what he did Aug. 22, when the Ravens held a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Memorial Stadium while the Orioles were facing the Minnesota Twins at Oriole Park.

"It was a no-brainer because we're in a pennant race and it was a meaningless preseason game," he said. The Fillmores were cheering on the Orioles -- but Frank wore a radio headset to keep track of the Ravens score.

Stretching the sports dollar

The burden of the two sports has stressed the family budget, he said. But they've swallowed hard, ponied up thousands of dollars for the permanent seat licenses and full-season Orioles plans (in combination with some other people) and Ravens tickets. They try to eat before leaving home or brown-bag it to games to save money.

"What we tend to do less of is the concessions," he said.

Those are the sorts of decisions being made across the region, at kitchen tables and in board rooms, as limited budgets are being divvied up between two sports.

"Obviously, we're going to compete," said David Cope, a former Orioles marketing executive who is now the Ravens' vice president of sales and marketing. "We'll always compete for season tickets and corporate dollars and stadium ads and sponsorships. We're competitors for that space in the newspaper."

Gene McHale, president of Sports Advertising Network in New York, which sells stadium sponsorships, said competing teams in the same market can have a seasonal appeal to advertisers: It allows them to keep their message in front of consumers longer.

Also, although the two sports have similar fans, there are subtle differences in the demographics that may enhance the appeal of one sport relative to the other for an advertiser.

"Sponsors want to target certain fans and different seasons," McHale said.

Overlap is rare

The two sports' seasons only overlap in the late summer and early fall, so direct competition for, say, television viewers is relatively infrequent. So far, the Orioles seem to be winning those contests, influenced, no doubt, by their presence in pennant races this year and last.

The Aug. 22 game against the Twins captured 24 percent of the Friday night viewers. The Ravens' preseason match against the Bills that night garnered less than half of that: 9 percent. But that's comparing a red-hot baseball team in the stretch run with an NFL preseason game.

Both teams tend to do better when the other is not broadcasting, said Sharon Walz, research director for WBAL.

The real competition is for the available dollars in the region. Between them, the two teams this year offered for sale more than $80 million worth of tickets -- $59.5 million for the Orioles and $22.8 million for the Ravens. And that doesn't include millions of dollars in Ravens permanent seat licenses, the one-time fee charged season-ticket buyers.

"In a sense, I guess it's just like supermarkets competing for the same customers," said Rodney Fort, co-author of "Pay Dirt: The Business of Professional Team Sports."

Orioles vice chairman of business and finance Joe Foss agreed that logic would dictate the baseball team is better off without the competition. But so far, he said, the Orioles haven't been affected.

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