Official word of the 2017 ticket-price increase that team president Dick Cass hinted at early last month arrived in the inboxes of many Ravens fans Wednesday morning.
In a letter to the team’s season-ticket holders, Ravens senior vice president of ticket sales and operations Baker Koppelman outlined the organization’s first ticket-price increase for home games at M&T Bank Stadium since the team won the Super Bowl after the 2012 regular season.
Just a month after finishing with an 8-8 record and missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, the team announced ticket prices will go up from 4.7 percent to 10.3 percent for certain prime sections. According to the team, the price increases will bring an additional 8 percent of growth to the Ravens’ ticket revenues.
“It’s difficult. Anytime you raise prices, you’re always going to be concerned with what kind of response you’re going to get,” Koppelman said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun. “At the end of the day, we try our best to tie our pricing decisions to our business. People want to tie wins or losses to pricing, but the reality is, there’s no good time to raise prices.
“The bottom line is nobody wants to pay more. We don’t necessarily want to charge more, but we have a business to run and we just have to keep pace with what’s going on around us. It directly correlates with what’s going on at our stadium.”
The Ravens announced Tuesday that they will invest $120 million in enhancements for their 19-year-old downtown stadium. The three-year project will address several longtime fan concerns, including the addition of elevators and escalators, new enlarged video boards in each end zone, video boards in the upper deck and a new sound system for the lower seating bowl.
Overall, the team will have invested approximately $165 million in upgrades at M&T Bank Stadium since 2013.
“The money that we’re generating, we’re running our business with this money,” Koppelman said. “I don’t like to draw a completely direct correlation, but obviously it factors in the end that the money will be used to that purpose. That’s part of running the overall business. The overall business is to try and win football games and provide a great experience for our fans.”
The Ravens also are in the process of a $45 million renovation of their Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills. The changes will allow more fans to attend training camp, starting in 2018. That’s hardly a consolation to certain fans who weren’t pleased with the ticket increase.
“You’re trying to keep up with the fact that people like staying home and watching the RedZone channel and on big-screen TVs, but at the end of the day for me, I care more about wins or losses than I do about a new HD video board,” said Phil Backert, whose family has had season tickets since the Ravens’ inaugural season in 1996. “You can have ticket prices increase when you’re making the playoffs, but when it’s coming on the heels of missing the playoffs in three or the last four years, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.”
A White Marsh resident, Backert, 31, said his family also has season tickets to the Orioles and he was more understanding of their price increase before the 2016 baseball season because the team had dramatically raised its payroll by re-signing first baseman Chris Davis, among others. The Orioles had also qualified for the postseason in two of the previous four years.
Still, Backert said his family planned to renew its Ravens’ five-ticket season package. He said the increase, which equated to about $6 per ticket for his seats, was manageable.
Frank Vojik, a 69-year-old Glen Burnie resident, has two seats in Section 134, which is in the lower bowl in the corner of the end zone. His seats went up nearly $10 each per game under the new pricing plan.
“I’ve been retired for a couple of years and anytime anybody raises prices on anything, my financial radar goes up,” Vojik said. “But I’m comfortable with what they’re doing. I have a lot of friends that I tailgate with and many of them are in the upper deck and they are very happy that escalators are going up. I know where the money is going and it’s going into improving the fan experience, so I’m OK with it and I can live with the increase.”
Team officials have said over the years that the Ravens need to keep their ticket prices in the top half of the league to remain competitive in the marketplace. Per the Team Marketing Report, the average ticket for a Ravens game during the 2016 season was $112.11, the eighth-most expensive in the NFL. The league average was $92.98.
However, the Ravens say their average ticket price last year ranked in the bottom half of the NFL and they based that on data provided by the league. Most teams don’t release price figures, so there’s traditionally some discrepancy as to where teams rank in terms of prices.
From 2001 to 2009, the Ravens raised the price of season tickets every other year. However, they broke that trend in 2011 when the uncertainty of an extended NFL lockout and a sluggish economy prompted team officials to keep prices the same.
After they won Super Bowl XLVII to cap the 2012 season, they raised ticket prices an average of 10 percent per ticket in the lower seating bowl. That was the last price hike before this year’s decision.
The price increase is the Ravens’ second in the past nine years and their seventh since the stadium opened in 1998. It comes at a time when NFL teams are being greatly challenged to get fans to come out to stadiums and forego watching games on big-screen televisions from the comfort of their own homes.
Fan discontent with the product the Ravens have put on the field in recent seasons is also much higher than it has been in several years. The Ravens still maintain one of the top home-field advantages in the NFL — they are 54-18 at M&T Bank Stadium since coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008 — and they’ve sold out every home game in team history.
However, many of their home crowds during the 2016 season lacked the fervor of what the team had grown accustomed to in previous years. During games against the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins, the opponent’s fans were heard loud and clear throughout. In a December matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles that the Ravens needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, there were rows of visible empty seats.
“It surprised me the number of empty seats I saw,” Vojik said. “I saw it every week and I’d go, ‘What’s going on?’”
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged last month that he noticed the empty seats and said he’s “always concerned” with fan apathy, but “I don’t think we’re at a critical stage there.”
Koppelman said the Ravens have had a 99 percent renewal rating every offseason since 2004. They’ll mail out their 2017 season-ticket invoices in the coming days.
“There’s no perfect answer to tell somebody why the price increase has to happen or how they should feel it, but I know we have a loyal group of fans and we’re going to keep plugging away and hopefully give them something to feel good about it,” Koppelman said.
The Ravens’ 2017 home schedule features games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins.