A capital idea, indeed Football: A small but eager group of Washingtonians are attending Ravens games, and team officials are hoping D.C. area residents soon flock to Baltimore football as they did to the city's baseball team.

September 26, 1998|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Watch out for the cell phones -- the Washingtonians are coming.

As the Ravens break in their new stadium, the stands are filling not only with Baltimore fans but also with a small guard of Washington lawyers, lobbyists, congressional staffers and assorted capital insiders. Baltimoreans, weary of the white-collar Washington presence at Camden Yards, might dread the idea. But the Washington crowd is not cowed.

"I love the Ravens, I love football and I'm going to go to lots of games," says Bruce Yarwood, a sports fan and lobbyist at the American Health Care Association, whose Washington organization has season tickets to the Redskins and the Ravens.

Though Yarwood swears he won't whip out a cell phone, as the stereotype of the hyperventilating Washington networker has it, he is not opposed to some benign Washington-style deal-making in Ravens territory. "I might take different clients, people in the same business, lawmakers."

Don't riot yet. The Ravens' home will not look like Jack Kent Cooke stadium. The Washington presence is subtle -- at tomorrow night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, just 8 percent of the fans are expected to represent the federal city. But eventually, Ravens promoters hope to generate the same Washington numbers as at Oriole Park, where more than one in four fans hails from the capital area.

"That's our goal," says David Cope, vice president of sales and marketing for the Ravens. "People know how easy Camden Yards is to get to from downtown D.C. Ravens stadium is even more so. Hopefully, our team will be competitive and we'll pick up on Washington fans."

NFL etiquette bars the Baltimore team from promoting itself in Redskins territory, but the word is out nonetheless.

The Washington lobbying office of Philip Morris bought four lower-level end-zone seats, as did a handful of law firms. Capital area offices for Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bell Atlantic Mobil, PepsiCo, Sprint Spectrum and Northern Telecom shelled out big bucks for skyboxes. "All the Washington lobbyists have tickets," says hydroelectric power lobbyist David Carroll. "It's like a field trip to Baltimore."

Football? For some, it is beside the point.

"The Ravens stadium is almost like a tourist attraction," says Audrey Schaeffer, a spokeswoman for Bell Atlantic Mobile, which obtained the skybox as part of a package with scoreboard advertising. "It was a great opportunity for us to have visibility."

To be sure, longtime Washingtonians live and die with the Redskins. The Ravens are a mere gnat in their universe. But contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as a Washington Ravens fan. Many of them are transplanted Baltimoreans still aching from the loss of the Colts -- people who grew up rooting for any team just so long as it wasn't the Redskins.

"Even though I've lived here for 13 years, I guess I never transferred my allegiance," says John McKechnie, 36, a lobbyist for the Credit Union National Association in Washington who moved here after growing up in Catonsville. "It's a dream come true to have a team back."

While McKechnie said his devotion to the Ravens struck his business contacts on Capitol Hill as a mere curiosity last year, now these insiders are suddenly requesting a ticket or two. Some, who moved to Washington from other cities, want to come to Ravens stadium whenever their hometown team is visiting. Others are looking for a new business venue.

"I've gotten at least a dozen calls from Hill people who want to buy my tickets," he says. "I say: 'No, you don't understand something. I'm not the typical Washington lobbyist who buys a ticket to give them away. This is not a business transaction. This is real.' "

For now, the Redskins are not exactly trembling in their cleats, fearful of a mass defection to Baltimore. Washington fans are ferociously loyal -- everybody knows that. The Redskins are home this weekend, playing the Denver Broncos and holding onto potential defectors.

Even so, some folks hate the new Redskins stadium in Prince George's County enough to stay away. Washington critics say the structure is hulking and impersonal ("evil," one fan called it), the prices too high, the seats too far-flung and the never-ending waiting list for tickets too frustrating.

"I love football, I love Baltimore, and there's just no way to get tickets to the Redskins," says Paul Sawyer, chief of staff to Rep. Richard H. Baker, a Louisiana Republican. He took out a loan to pay $6,000 for lifetime rights to his Ravens seats, and paid $1,300 for his two season tickets. "That's how committed I am. I go to see the games as much as possible, and I watch them on TV when they're out of town and I'm buying all their ugly clothes."

Tom Cicotello is already tired of The Jack, as fans call the Redskins' new stadium, after only one season.

"The Ravens' stadium should be more intimate -- the Jack is just so big, if you're up top at the Jack you're far, far away," says Cicotello, who works at a commercial property management firm on K Street in Washington. Besides, he says, "Baltimore's as easy a drive."

Maybe Washington fans will blend in except for the capital license plates in the parking lots. But not folks like Tim Ruben, an executive at USSI, a cleaning company with many government clients. He is ready to look every inch the Washington work-obsessed fan.

"I'll go with a customer," he says. "And I'll bring the cell phone."

Pub Date: 9/26/98

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