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As lockout drags on, payment for Ravens season tickets comes due

FootballNFLSteve BisciottiNational Football League Players Association

If you happen to be a Ravens season-ticket holder, Wednesday marks the deadline where you and your bank account have to decide just how important it is to retain those season tickets in 2011, despite the fact that little progress has been made between the NFL Players Association and the league's owners as they try to reach a new labor agreement.

Full payment on all season tickets is due Wednesday, a deadline the franchise feels is necessary to continue operating their business effectively. And the Ravens, even though they've fielded some frustrating phone calls and emails in recent months, say season ticket holders seem to understand it's a necessary leap of faith.

"We're actually slightly ahead of where we were last year [for season ticket sales]," said Ravens president Dick Cass. "Obviously we've been getting calls from people, raising questions about whether or not we're going to have a season. We tell them we fully expect we're going to have a full regular season at some point."

But there is no question the deadline has created a bit of an awkward situation. Essentially, the franchise is asking its customers to pay now to watch future games even though the organization is, at the same time, currently locking players out, preventing them from playing in those games.

Some fans aren't thrilled, even if the majority of them still plan to break out their checkbooks.

"As a [private seat-license] holder, I am not happy about coughing up the full cost with the season up in the air," said Ravens fan George Giannaras. "I think a more reasonable and fair approach would be to pay half of the cost, and allow the remaining payment to be paid in full after a [collective bargaining agreement] is in place and the season is assured."

The reality is, most season-ticket holders — especially if they are PSL owners — feel like they don't have a choice. If they don't pay, the Ravens send a certified letter, and follow it up with several phone calls. And if they still don't receive payment, the season-ticket holder runs the risk of losing their PSL.

"Bottom line, if I forgo paying the Ravens, I risk losing the $6,000 PSL investment I made back in 2005," said Jerry Sandrowsky, a Ravens fan from Pasadena. "In turn, I am sure some other fan will happily step up and claim these seats. In that case, the Ravens will also collect $5,000 for each seat from the new owner. And of course, I'd have nothing to show for my initial investment. Face it, failing to pony up the money for season tickets despite this labor dispute doesn't make for a sound business decision. I am not saying it's fair. It's just reality.

Cass said the Ravens have tried to be as fair about the situation as possible. If games do end up getting canceled, season-ticket holders will get their money back plus 1 percent interest from the team. (The Ravens are putting the money in escrow.) And that includes two preseason games.

"The irony of the situation is, if we miss the preseason, our fans will probably be happy because then we'll have to pay back 20 percent of their season ticket money," Cass said.

But for some Ravens fans, the offer to pay fans 1 percent interest if games get canceled doesn't go far enough.

"I really think that the Ravens made a PR error when they didn't change the final payment date," said Ravens season-ticket holder Tom Hornick. "Getting 1 percent interest isn't any compensation to the ticket holders. I think it would have been a better gesture to say final payment isn't due until we get these negotiations settled. Just let folks know that payment would need to be made within 10 days of settlement. Leaving the date the same as any other year just doesn't ring true this year. I will be real unhappy if they don't settle this year and the NFL tells me I can't use my seat license that I paid for. Watching HDTV at home is looking better and better."

The labor strife has created difficult financial decisions for the Ravens as well. In March of 2010, in preparation for a potential lockout, the Ravens quietly told their employees — a designation that includes everyone from coach John Harbaugh all the way down to the cafeteria staff — they would not lay anyone off, nor would they reduce health benefits, but they were planning to cut everyone's salary by 25 percent during a lockout. They made that decision after consultation with various other teams around the league, with the understanding that employees would get the money back if the Ravens played all 10 home games in 2011.

But according to a source close to the Ravens, Cass and owner Steve Bisciotti decided to reverse that decision last week, and restore salaries to 100 percent (with missing back pay), in part because they want the Ravens to continue to be regarded as one of the best teams in the league to work for, in both good times and bad. Bisciotti and Cass sent out an email to their employees last Thursday, informing them of the decision.

"We've always wanted to be among those NFL teams that are regarded as one of the best place to work in the NFL," read the email sent to Ravens employees, according to a source who had seen a copy. "If we want to be included in the small list of teams that are regarded as one of the best places to work in the NFL, we need to change our lockout pay policy. For that reason, effective immediately, we're restoring everyone's pay to 100 percent."

The Ravens, according to the source, have said internally they will reevaluate the situation again in September if the lockout is not resolved.

kvanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

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