In marketing, Ravens, 'Skins split up rights

Territories: The NFL gives the Redskins promotional rights to two Maryland counties, but the rest of the state belongs to the Ravens.

Pro Football

October 24, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Two weeks ago, the Ravens and Washington Redskins played a nationally televised game at FedEx Field, the NFL's largest stage.

Far less visible were a series of private meetings and phone calls in March in which the stakes were not bragging rights for a season, but regional marketing rights - covering everything from billboards to pizza-topping giveaways - that could last years.

In negotiations with both teams, the NFL quietly carved up the Baltimore-Washington region into "purple" and "burgundy" to clearly define in which areas the Ravens and Redskins can promote their teams.

According to league officials, the Redskins were given exclusive rights to densely populated Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which together account for nearly one-third of Maryland's population. Montgomery also is one of the state's wealthiest counties.

But the Ravens got the rest of the state, including Anne Arundel, Carroll, Frederick and Howard counties, where fans wear both colors.

The league brokered the map to eliminate ambiguity and head off potential conflicts between two aggressive franchises whose overlapping fan bases total more than 7.5 million people in some of the nation's most affluent areas. The boundaries block the Redskins from opening a retail outlet at Columbia Mall in Howard County - an option the club had been considering.

The territorial lines, which one team's official likened to tribal boundaries, were approved by NFL owners in March as part of a review of all teams' marketing arrangements with the league and one another.

"We clarified the relationship to state that the Redskins have exclusive rights in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and no other part of the state of Maryland," said Gary Gertzog, the NFL's vice president of legal and business affairs. "It was thought it was best to clarify and delineate by county as opposed to by specific mileage."

Under the deal, the Ravens also can market in portions of Pennsylvania, where the Eagles are about 80 miles away in Philadelphia and the Pittsburgh Steelers rule farther west. The Ravens have many fans in and around York, Pa.

The deal controls sales or promotions by the franchises or their sponsors using team symbols. A team cannot erect billboards on the other's turf, nor can it authorize a sponsor to put up a billboard on its behalf or to offer discounted products in its name.

The arrangement doesn't prevent the teams from peddling season tickets through media advertising or by mail in each others' areas - a minor concern since both franchises' tickets are sold out.

Nor does it affect television coverage. For example, Frederick continues to be in a shared Redskins-Ravens television market.

In a sense, the Redskins' and Ravens' markets long regulated themselves.

That's because most of the teams' fans consider themselves distinctly loyal to one team or the other. Many Baltimoreans blame the Redskins' organization for the city's prolonged period without an NFL team after the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984. Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke opposed expansion, then sought to build the team's new stadium in Laurel, just 15 miles south of Baltimore. Cooke eventually settled on a site in Prince George's County. Even though farther from Baltimore, its Maryland location rankles.

"There is a tribal aspect to sports markets," said Dennis Mannion, the Ravens' senior vice president for business ventures. "It could be detrimental to your brand to market on foreign soil because the fans may perceive that brand as being friendly to an enemy team."

The issue for the Ravens and Redskins is that there are places between Baltimore and Washington with split allegiances. Many of the Ravens' principal sponsors such as M&T Bank, Pepsi and Verizon have a significant presence in the Baltimore and Washington markets.

One community in the middle is Columbia, where the manager of a Papa John's pizza parlor said that his store is running team promotions simultaneously. For every Ravens touchdown, the store gives away a free topping on a large pizza. For every Redskins touchdown, it offers a free topping on a discounted large pizza, plus a 20-ounce drink.

Since Howard County is supposed to be exclusive Ravens land, the promotion appears to violate the new rules.

But Mannion said the Ravens have not protested, and the league appears interested only in large infractions.

"This is going to be violated in small ways just because of the newness," Mannion said. "I think we'd be looking to regulate professional associations with the powerful brands such as automotive, beer and soda that have deep marketing channels."

Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson declined to comment on the agreement. Asked about his club having contemplated a retail store in Columbia, Swanson said only, "We've looked at stores all over our territory."

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