Ravens improve payoff hopes, too

The Baltimore Sun

Each year, the Ravens and other NFL clubs sell millions of dollars in commercial space for their TV and radio shows, Web sites and electronic scoreboard signs. But they don't offer it all up right away.

Like canny stockbrokers waiting for an opportune moment to sell, the franchises often hold up to one-fifth of their product until after the season begins. That way, they can increase the rate and reap a modest windfall of as much as 15 to 20 percent if the team happens to perform particularly well on the field. If the team loses, the club might incur a slight loss.

It's one of the many ways - some obvious, some subtle - in which winning translates into dollars in the NFL.

With the Ravens off to a 3-0 start, club executives believe their team has a shot at one of those special seasons that not only builds glorious on-the-field memories but helps pad the financial foundation.

It's still early, of course. The Ravens play the 2-0 San Diego Chargers tomorrow at M&T; Bank Stadium "We could fall flat on our face after a hot start," Dennis Mannion, the team's senior vice president for business ventures, said with a laugh.

The young franchise, a pre-teen by NFL standards, already knows from experience what winning can do.

After the club's January 2001 Super Bowl victory in just its fifth season in Baltimore, the Ravens quickly sold about 3,000 more season tickets to push the total to 65,000. It could have sold more, but it held back about 5,000 tickets for sale on a game-by-game basis to special groups, its existing season-ticket holders and the public. It still holds back about 5,000 seats today and never has trouble selling out.

Suite success

The club also sold out the remaining 10 percent of suites that hadn't yet been leased. The suites - there are 124 today - can fetch $90,000 to more than $200,000 a year. All are sold out today, but are leased for periods ranging from three to seven years - which means there is no guarantee they will remain sold if the club has a multi-season dry spell on the field.

A hot commodity after capturing the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the club could now also realistically expect more from sponsors who pay in excess of a half-million dollars a year for the right to use the team's trademarks for promotions.

Ravens sponsors include Comcast, Verizon, Constellation Energy, Coca-Cola, The Sun and Smyth Jewelers. While most leading sponsors "stay faithful in good times and bad, there is definitely a correlation in the rate and amount of sponsorship with team performance," Mannion said.

The degree of success in attracting local revenues - such as those from the sponsors - is what separates one NFL team's bottom line from the next. More than half of the Ravens' gross revenues are national - from such things as network TV contracts and licensing agreements. The team declined to say exactly what percent comes from local sources, saying the figure is private.

Win partners, fans

Winning has a ripple effect not only on the team, but also on its business partners. "[A good season] might help our radio partner on selling some more radio spots," Ravens president Dick Cass said. "If you have a good year, I think it sets you up for next year."

Success on the field also has an intangible byproduct: It grows the fan base.

Having lots of fans enables clubs to attract and maintain sponsors. Having more sponsors, in turn, boosts the club's visibility around the region and attracts more fans.

Attracting new fans is more important for the Ravens than most teams because they have been in Baltimore only since 1996. The club believes it has the potential to attract new fans, as well as maintain existing ones, in such counties as Harford, Carroll, Frederick, Calvert and Charles. All are among the state's fastest-growing counties, and the latter three are sharply divided in their loyalties between the Ravens and Washington Redskins.

"If you have a large and growing and loyal fan base and you go through three or four bad seasons, then you still have a large and loyal fan base," Cass said. "Look at the Eagles and the Giants. They've gone through some bad seasons and still have large fan bases. This is our 11th year, and it takes a long time and some on-field success."

It all means that the Ravens have less of an economic cushion than those other clubs if they don't win.

Television is critical to drawing new fans. The more the Ravens win, the greater the chances of getting games broadcast in the Washington area, which is an important secondary market for the Ravens along with Harrisburg, Pa.

The Sun reported in August that the Ravens are quietly appealing to the NFL to unite Baltimore and Washington into a single television market. That would mean all regular-season Ravens games would be televised on network affiliates not only in Baltimore, but also on Washington stations, which reach many of the fans the Ravens are targeting in Frederick, Calvert, Charles and other counties.

Flagging support

In Charles County, where it is much easier to get the Redskins on TV than the Ravens, "not that many people are actively paying attention to the Ravens," said Ravens fan Matt Pedersen, who lives in the southern Maryland county.

"I have yet to see any car window flags for the Ravens, unlike the Redskins and other popular teams, such as the Cowboys or Giants. I think if the team makes it to 6-0, we will see many more fair-weather fans come out of the woodwork."

While there is ample room to expand their popularity with the region's fans, the Ravens have fared relatively well financially in their brief history for a small-market team.

While Baltimore is only the league's 24th largest television market out of 32 teams, the Ravens are 13th in revenues - a ranking experts attribute to the franchise's success in selling suites and sponsorships and having a relatively new stadium. M&T; Bank Stadium opened in 1998.

And the Super Bowl win sure didn't hurt.

"Winning is a magic elixir," says Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne. "Everything goes up, up, up when you win."


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