Ravens look to reach remote fans

August 09, 2006|By JEFF BARKER | JEFF BARKER,SUN REPORTER

The Ravens are quietly appealing to the NFL to unite Baltimore and Washington into a single television market, a move that could help the club serve thousands of fans - and cultivate new ones - who can't see all of the team's games because they live outside the immediate Baltimore area.

Under the club's proposal, all Ravens regular-season games would be televised on network affiliates not only in Baltimore, but also on Washington stations, which reach areas such as Frederick County, where their fans have complained about missing games.

Because they are a relatively new franchise in the smallish Baltimore market, the Ravens think that catering to fans in growing areas beyond the city is important to their success.

"We are trying to serve our fans by ensuring they can see our games on television," said Ravens President Dick Cass. "Under the current system, all our home games are sold out but yet frequently blacked out in areas a few miles from our stadium."

Under the Ravens' plan, all Washington Redskins games would be televised in Baltimore. Many are televised now, and many Ravens games are shown on Washington stations.

The Ravens were quick to note that they are not in a skirmish over the issue with the NFL or with the Redskins, who have not weighed in. Cass said the team has had amicable discussions with the league that he hopes will lead to a conclusion that both teams could support.

Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said he wasn't familiar with the Ravens' proposal and declined to comment.

The NFL says it is sensitive to the matter. The Ravens' "pursuit is definitely noble. If the commissioner tells us to do it, we'll do it," said Michael North, an official in the NFL's broadcast services department in New York. He said the Ravens' request is problematic because it presents scheduling and other logistical issues.

In raising the matter with the league this year, the Ravens said they were responding to fans who are NFL anomalies, living within an hour's drive of their favorite team but unable to see all of the games on television because the Redskins are closer and are considered by the league to be the local team.

Many Ravens fans e-mailed The Sun with their accounts of woe.

Ravens fan Randy Schools said in an interview that he can drive to M&T Bank Stadium from his Rockville home in 45 minutes. But his proximity doesn't assure the 61-year-old nonprofit manager of seeing more than half of the team's games on local television. "I've gotten pretty disappointed a few times," he said.

The same is true for Ravens booster Mike Farrell, who glumly recalls living in Olney - about 30 miles from Baltimore - when the Ravens made their biggest comeback in franchise history to beat the Seattle Seahawks, 44-41, in 2003. "Bad game to be blocked out on," said Farrell, 46, an electrical contractor who now lives in Frederick, where he heads a Ravens' Nest fan club.

The Ravens say thousands of fans are in such a predicament.

Under the current system, a team's principal market must televise every game except home contests that don't sell out. Teams also have secondary markets that generally show their away games. Washington is a Ravens secondary market, as Baltimore is for the Redskins. Harrisburg, Pa., is also a Ravens secondary market.

Two years ago, the NFL carved up the Baltimore-Washington region into "purple" and "burgundy" to define the areas in which the Ravens and Redskins are permitted to promote their teams. The Redskins were given exclusive rights to Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Ravens got the rest of the state.

The boundaries apply to such things as billboards and team-related pizza-topping giveaways, but not to television, for which the Baltimore-Washington delineation differs. The result is that there are areas - Frederick and Calvert counties, for example - in the Ravens marketing territory that are considered Redskins turf by the television networks.

It makes for passionate debate between fans and television stations over what games should be shown where.

"No matter what game we pick, someone wants us to pick the other game. It does get tough," said Darryll Green, president and general manager of WUSA, Channel 9, Washington's CBS affiliate. "I probably like the flexibility because you can pick the best game. But we're very sensitive to the Ravens' being here and us being a secondary market, especially when they have big games."

"This issue has been my bane for a couple of years," said Guy Fletcher, a Ravens fan from Frederick who can't watch all of the games he wants on cable.

Some Ravens fans in the region say they have little choice but to buy a satellite dish and subscribe to the NFL's premium package, which costs about $200 per season.

"A lot of guys in my area get it," said Ravens fan Darrell Edwards of Upper Marlboro.

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