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London may be opportunity for NFL. (Baltimore Sun Video)

Ravens fans have been checking out nightclubs in London this week, planning a "Purple Pub crawl" through Piccadilly Circus and heading to the Tower of London and Parliament.

"Ravens were the excuse. London is the draw to come," said Jim Runser of Carroll County. He flew out Monday from Dulles International Airport — where he and other fans spotted former Raven Jonathan Ogden making the trip — and is turning the game into a weeklong sightseeing binge.

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Thousands of Baltimore-based fans are traveling to London to see Sunday's game between their beloved Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars at London's Wembley Stadium.

The Ravens sold 4,000 tickets through the team's ticket offices, and local travel groups bought more directly from the NFL on the first day of the public sale, said Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne.

"An NFL executive told me that they have had more demand for tickets from the Baltimore area than any other visiting team in the London series," Byrne said.

Such travel underscores why the NFL chooses stadiums in nightlife-friendly, tourism-savvy cities for its rare neutral-site games.

The idea is to select cities that appeal to more than football tastes and entice not only local fans to games, but hordes of out-of-towners. It's no coincidence that New Orleans and Miami — warm-weather cities with reputations for late-night partying — have hosted more Super Bowls than any other city. London also could be ripe to host its own NFL franchise one day.

London may present opportunity for NFL -- a new frontier for a league hoping its growth has not ended.

It's been a busy week for Runser.

"So much to see and only a few days to soak it all in. Traffic is horrible," he said.

By Wednesday night, he'd hit Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Tower of London and Parliament. Remaining on the agenda were the British Museum, Churchill War Rooms and the London Eye — a Ferris wheel on the River Thames with a commanding city view.

And then there's Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium, which holds about 84,000 for American football. The historic venue is itself an attraction, known for its English football (aka soccer), concerts and its sweeping overhead arch.

Fans making the trek from Baltimore paid several thousand dollars each for the privilege.

PrimeSport, the Ravens' Atlanta-based travel partner, offered packages starting at $1,995 per person without airfare up to $4,165 with airfare. The company said it anticipated several hundred fans traveling with it for the game and it expects "several hundred more to join at our pregame offerings in London. We should see a strong Ravens crowd."

BMORE Around Town, a social events company, said it booked 750 customers, including former Raven Ed Reed, who was spotted in London by fans. Its week-long packages ranged from $2,300 to $3,300 for airfare, hotel, ground transport, events, game tickets and tailgate party.

Some fans also signed up for a side trip for Paris to see art museums, burlesque shows and the Eiffel Tower.

"This is a European trip where people get to spend the week in London with 750 of their closest Raven friends," said company owner Brian Snyder. "So many people have never been to London. We have people that have never even flown before."

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By Thursday, some of the 750 had posted photos in a BMORE Around Town Facebook group of purple-clad fans at Windsor Castle and the Tower Bridge.

One fan showed off a fingernail painted like the British flag in a picture posted to the group. One asked fellow fans: "Who is going to see Les Miserables tomorrow evening?" Another reminded travelers about the need for electrical adapters on laptops and other appliances.

Someone posted a picture of The Admiralty, which bills itself as a "traditional pub" and — this week — a Ravens fan hangout.

On Twitter, the pub posted a photo of purple Ravens banners hanging inside with the comment: "Banners are up! @Ravens we're ready for you! #ravens #RavensFlock #NFLUK — at The Admiralty"

There were also Facebook photos of fans at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Among those scheduled to tour the French capital was Santana Gordon and his wife, Ravens fans from York, Pa.

"She mentioned a burlesque show, a few restaurants she wanted to go to, the Eiffel Tower," Gordon said.

"I try to find road games to go to," he said. "You look at the schedule and find a city that looks exciting."

Sharon McCain of Arbutus said she and her husband, Jim, were determined to see Abbey Road, which was made famous by a Beatles album.

"You need to see the world," said Sharon McCain, who enjoys Ravens road trips because of the atmosphere.

Sharon McCain, left, and her husband Jim McCain, right, are the vice president and president, respectively, of Ravens Roost 97. They and several friends are going to the upcoming Ravens game in England. They are holding tickets to the game.
Sharon McCain, left, and her husband Jim McCain, right, are the vice president and president, respectively, of Ravens Roost 97. They and several friends are going to the upcoming Ravens game in England. They are holding tickets to the game. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

"We normally go to an away game here and there," she said. "We've always ended up in a big group of people. In Jacksonville, we made a whole bunch of friends on the water, at the bars. By the time you got to the tailgate and the game, you already knew all these people."

Sunday's game also offers a chance for European-based Ravens fans to greet their Baltimore counterparts.

The NFL has been holding games in London since 2007 and says it has a United Kingdom fan base of more than 13 million, including about four million that it calls "avid fans."

"We're very pleased with the way fan demand has grown," said Mark Waller, the NFL's executive vice president for international and events.

About 90 percent of those attending previous London NFL games were English fans, according to the league. Five percent were Americans traveling overseas or already living in the United Kingdom and the other five percent were from elsewhere in Europe.

The Ravens say the team's two Super Bowl victories — one just five seasons ago — elevated their global popularity.

Paul Davison, who directs a water testing and treatment company and lives outside of London, said he became a Ravens fan through a Baltimore friend he would see on business trips in recent years..

"What I loved about Baltimore was that it had a small city feel," he said. "I subscribed to Game Pass so I could watch all the Ravens' games. Baltimore is fantastic and the tourist board should hire me."

Davison said a Facebook group established for Ravens fans in the United Kingdom had about 80 followers when he joined in 2006. Now there is a site with about 2,000.

This week, Davison planned to plunge into pregame events and look for Ravens fans at the Admiralty pub.

"It's going to be a fantastic weekend," he said "There will be seas of purple and black around town."

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