Without Ravens, fans not flocking to Westminster

Without Ravens, fans not flocking to Westminster
Westminster Mayor Kevin Utz surveys the empty football field at McDaniel College where the Ravens have practiced in past years. Utz said the loss to the city was significant. The cancellation of Ravens practice at McDaniel College has meant not only lost revenue, but the loss of the visibility that media coverage provided for Westminster. (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)

The three weeks when the Baltimore Ravens typically train in Westminster is a time for this Carroll County city to revive itself from the dog days of summer and get ready for the return of students to McDaniel College.

But these days the downtown area is devoid of many people — and most shades of purple — as the team opted to train at its in-season facility in Owings Mills because of the uncertainty surrounding the NFL lockout that ended last week after more than 100 days.

Though lifelong resident and first-term mayor Kevin Utz can't put an exact dollar figure on the loss of revenue due to the team's absence, he said Sunday that restaurants whose clientele came strictly to watch their favorite NFL team practice could lose between "10 and 20 percent" of their expected revenue and the Best Western hotel where the Ravens housed their players and coaches would likely be affected even more.

"It's significant," said Utz, a former Maryland State Trooper who now works in his daughter's real estate company.

Utz said the recognition that came with the city's affiliation with the Ravens was nearly as important and would also be missed.

"The sportscasters would say they were in Westminster and our website would get a lot of Google hits with people wanting to know, 'Where's that?'" Utz said.

Despite the team not being there for the first time since its inception in 1996, Utz said that the tradition of "painting the town purple" will continue later this month by replacing American and Maryland flags with Ravens flags,

At Rafael's, a restaurant on West Main Street, a handful of customers ate lunch or sipped on a beer as the Orioles-Yankees game played on the flat screen television behind the bar. Chris Ruby, the manager, said that "we don't have the foot traffic we normally have" when the Ravens are in town. The restaurant also hosts a local fan club, the Ravens Roost, during the season.

Ruby recalled how when some of the players, including Jarret Johnson, recently departed Kelly Gregg or even Joe Flacco, came in for dinner during training camp, word would spread and suddenly a quiet night became a busy one.

"We would go from nearly empty to completely full in minutes," Ruby said.

But not this summer.

Gordon Brauning, who everyone in town knows as Geno, said he used to go to training camp every day the team was there practicing, but doubted that he would make the trek to Baltimore when the Ravens open up their workout to the public Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium.

As the maintenance man at Johansson's, another popular Westminster restaurant, Brauning admits that there is a benefit to the Ravens not being around.

"I get more work done," he said, half-joking.

Not all of the local bars and restaurants within a long punt of the McDaniel College practice fields were quiet Sunday.

Baugher's, the 63-year old landmark restaurant that typically attracts many more locals than visitors, was jammed in the early afternoon. For a few minutes before 2 p.m., the line went out the door and into the parking lot.

Harold Stultz, the general manager of the restaurant for 11 years, said that there was barely any increase in the number of usual 5,000 to 6,000 customers a week when the Ravens were in training.

"I think it came to something like 27 more customers a week," said Stultz.

In fact, Stultz used to get complaints from some of the restaurant's longtime patrons that Ravens fans would fill up the parking lot and then walk over to the college. The parking lot was filled Sunday, but not a single one had a Ravens flag attached. The regulars were back to their routine.

The Best Western had a sign at its front desk advertising the fact that Ravens' training camp was canceled and rooms were available; the same information was posted recently on the display outside. A desk clerk who declined to give her name said that the 101-room hotel was about half filled.

Ruby, the manager at Rafael's, said that not everyone received the news of the Ravens moving their training camp away from Westminster.

"I had a few people ask me earlier today where the Ravens were training [in Westminster] and I told them they were in Owings Mills," he said.

Told that practice is closed there to the general public, and that the Ravens had Sunday off, Ruby realized that he had unwittingly given out bad information.

"I gave her good directions," he said.