Ravens try to rebuild ticket fever Promotions aimed at ending decline that was expected

'Tweener year' blamed

Turnaround expected when stadium's ready

October 17, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

One by one, they sat down in the purple chair, smiled for the cameras and received a rub on the shoulders and appreciative words from the team owner.

The Ravens and owner Art Modell yesterday invited a few randomly selected season-ticket holders out to thank them for their support and allow them to test the seats that will be installed in the new stadium. But the event had another purpose: to kick off a campaign to pull the franchise out of a bit of a sophomore slump.

Season-ticket and personal seat license sales for the club are still below where they were a year ago, and have even fallen behind the number sold in Cleveland for a team that doesn't yet exist. The team says it is confident its fortunes will revive, especially now that attention on the Orioles abates.

"We knew this would be a 'tweener' year," said David Cope, the team's vice president of sales and marketing.

Last year was the team's debut, following its move from Cleveland, and fans flocked to the new team in town as it limped through a disappointing, 4-12 season. Next year will see it playing in a new stadium that should generate interest the way Oriole Park did for the Orioles.

The trick is getting there from here.

By this time last year, the team had collected deposits for 54,000 seat licenses, which most season-ticket customers must purchase before getting their tickets. Attendance for the first three home games averaged 62,918 and the team posted 10 straight sellouts.

Thousands of the seat license buyers requested refunds after last season, bringing the total down 15 percent, to below 46,000 (it's now about 48,000).

Thousands of seats were removed from Memorial Stadium to reduce its capacity, but the Steelers game has been the only true sellout -- corporations bought up tickets to keep the season opener from being blacked out -- and attendance through the first three games is running 59,469, more than 5 percent below the figure for last year.

In Cleveland, the organization that is selling seat licenses in anticipation of that city getting a franchise by 1999 has received deposits for 52,449 licenses.

More than 90 percent of the Browns' former season-ticket holders have bought licenses. A new stadium is being built and the NFL has promised to put a team there that will be called the Browns.

Cope said the Ravens planned all along on a three-phase campaign to sell licenses. The first phase was its first season, in which getting tickets for games at Memorial Stadium required buying a seat license for the new stadium (that requirement was dropped for this season).

The final phase will be next spring, when the team prepares to move into the new stadium.

The second phase began with yesterday's media event.

"Our product is really two things: our facility and our team," Cope said.

This Sunday, the first batch of 1.7 million Ravens advertising booklets, with seat license applications, will be distributed in The Sun and newspapers in the Pennsylvania cities of York, Harrisburg and Lancaster.

Next week, it will be inserted into the Patuxent Publication papers and the Afro-American. Radio ads will call attention to the inserts.

Cope said the theme -- "The best is yet to come!" -- of the four-page insert is designed to focus attention on the new, $220 million stadium that will be completed in time for next year's preseason schedule.

Most categories of seating at the new stadium have sold out, leaving just three sections still open: lower and upper level end zones and upper level seats along the goal lines.

The remaining seats are the least expensive, going for $30 and $35 a game, along with seat licenses that range from $300 to $750.

"What that tells us is we priced our product well, but haven't marketed it correctly to the average tailgater, the average fan," Cope said. "I'm not worried. But we need to do a better job of connecting the old place with the new place. It's a unique situation," he said.

Dean Bonham, former marketing chief of the Denver Nuggets and president of the Denver-based sports marketing firm Bonham Group, said such second-season slumps are common in markets that have had pro sports.

"What you have in Baltimore is a seasoned, mature fan base. When you're dealing with a mature market, they insist on a winning team on the playing surface," Bonham said.

Fans in cities new to the major leagues tend to be more forgiving, he said.

"When the new facility comes along, I think you will see two or three years of interest related to the stadium, but then it will come down again to the quality of the team between the lines on the field," he said.

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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