Ravens' close proximity to Redskins can cause headaches for fans

NFL rules for nearby franchises creates issues for television, marketing and sales

August 20, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

To the Ravens and their followers, there can be something exciting — but also occasionally maddening — about having the Washington Redskins so close that the NFL teams' fan bases overlap.

The Ravens and Redskins, who meet Saturday night in a preseason game at FedEx Field, operate under a different arrangement than other NFL neighbors such as the New York Jets and Giants, and the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.

While those clubs share common television markets, the Ravens and Redskins have separate markets — meaning that thousands of Ravens fans within an hour's drive of M&T Bank Stadium can't get all of the team's regular-season telecasts on "free" television because they are technically in Redskins territory.

Those Ravens fans are, in effect, stuck behind enemy lines. The Ravens say about 12 percent of their personal seat license holders have residences in the District of Columbia, northern Virginia, Montgomery or Prince Georges Counties — the domain of the Redskins.

"There are fans of each team in each market," said David Cope, a sales and marketing executive who has worked for the Ravens and Redskins and is now with Major League Soccer's D.C. United. "It makes for a budding rivalry and a lot of fun and some gamesmanship. I love that the teams are playing in the preseason."

Randy Schools of Rockville, in Montgomery County, is one of those Ravens fans surrounded by Redskins supporters. Schools, who has had Ravens season tickets since the team's inception, said he occasionally struggles to find the Baltimore team covered in his local media and to get all the games on television even though he's only an hour away from M&T Bank Stadium.

M&T Bank Stadium and FedEx Field are about 32 miles apart. Schools said he can get to M&T Bank Stadium more quickly even though it is farther away. FedEx Field is larger, and game-day traffic tends to back up on I-495.

"In my mind, the [Baltimore-Washington] area has kind of merged together. It's one big mega-market," Schools said. "They should be able to find a niche for the Ravens on television, that's my gut reaction."

The NFL has designed rules to minimize any conflict between the clubs. The teams adhere to league-approved boundaries governing sales or promotions — such things as billboards and pizza giveaways — by the franchises or their sponsors using team symbols. The Redskins retain rights to Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Ravens have the rest of the state.

Occasionally, the rules are violated. Several years ago, John Ziemann, president of the Ravens marching band, received a letter at his Harford County home pitching a "pre-sale" of Redskins season tickets to customers of Bank of America, a Redskins sponsor.

"I thought, 'They're barking up the wrong tree with this boy,'" Ziemann said at the time.

Both the Redskins and the bank said the mistake was inadvertent.

It all can get confusing — particularly because the television boundaries and marketing boundaries are not quite the same. Frederick County, for example, is in Baltimore's marketing turf. But Ravens fans there complain that more Redskins games than Ravens contests are available on their cable television stations.

"We're so close and the NFL is treating us as distinct markets," Ravens president Dick Cass said. "We want to be on in the Washington TV market so our fans will be able to see us on TV.

"If you're a student at the University of Maryland, you can't see all our games [in College Park]. We believe we're the only NFL team that has some of its games blacked out in its own marketing territory. We've talked about that with the NFL a number of times."

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 and have the option to show their home games — but sometimes don't. Washington is a Ravens secondary market, as Baltimore is for the Redskins. The Ravens would like Baltimore-Washington to be a single, unified TV market.

Said Redskins senior vice president Tony Wyllie: "We respect the league's arrangements at the present time."

The regular-season television guidelines don't apply in the preseason, when different broadcast partners are involved. The marketing boundaries are in effect all year.

Cass said the Ravens have no issue with the Redskins. "It's a cordial, professional relationship," he said.

The NFL said it does its best to accommodate Ravens fans who feel disenfranchised once the regular season begins.

"By careful scheduling, we have been able to expand the number of times Ravens games are seen in Washington, D.C.," league spokesman Dan Masonson said in an e-mail reply to a Sun query. The NFL is trying to avoid situations such as what occurred in last season's Week 6, when the Ravens and Redskins played at the same time on the same network.

On the field. the Ravens and Redskins haven't played enough — just four regular-season games — to cement their rivalry.

The teams have very different identities. The Redskins have had six coaches (plus interim coach Terry Robiskie) since the Ravens arrived in 1996. The Ravens have had three.

The teams' fan bases appear largely entrenched.

"I think that either team trying to convert one of the other team's fans is a waste of time and money," Cope said. "But they can convert casual or non-fans in the others' markets. So it's about growing the fan base, not swapping it out."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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