Two days after the Ravens romped to their most important late-season victory in years over the Los Angeles Chargers, outspoken linebacker Matthew Judon had one thought he wished to share with the world.
“All I want for Christmas,” he wrote on Twitter, “is a full house at M&T this Sunday.”
There was a time, not many years ago, when the Ravens would have taken a raucous, sellout crowd for granted as they prepared for a game with the AFC North title on the line. But as they ready for just that scenario Sunday afternoon against the suddenly dangerous Cleveland Browns, they’re also doing their best to woo a fan base that hasn’t always showed up in recent seasons.
It’s an unusual position for a team that long carried one of the NFL’s greatest home-field advantages.
On paper, the Ravens don’t have an attendance problem. They’ve announced sellouts for every home game this season, just the way they usually do. They still have a wait list of more than 1,500 for permanent seat licenses. But it has become common to see thousands of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium on game days, a phenomenon that was not helped by the endless monsoons that soaked the city in 2018. Prices on the secondary market have fluctuated along with confidence in the team. The Ravens have also advertised available tickets on television and in print to a degree not seen in past seasons.
“At the end of the day, our games are sold out. That hasn’t changed,” said Baker Koppelman, the team’s senior vice president of ticket sales and operations. “But the world is evolving. … The no-shows, they’re an issue everywhere. It’s just the changing landscape of the culture.”
He argued that the situation is more complex than the ticket advertisements might suggest. Fans are less likely to rush to the box office than they were in the past, because they know tickets will be available on the secondary market right up to kickoff.
Koppelman said consumer interest in the Browns game is high; only scattered single and club seats remained available as of Wednesday afternoon. For some fans, a switch seemed to flip when the Ravens pounded the 11-3 Chargers on the road last weekend to pass the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North race. With a win over Cleveland, they would return to the postseason for the first time in four years and host a home playoff game for the first time in six.
“In the last week, there is no slack in demand,” Koppelman said. “Demand has taken off since last weekend. It just goes to show you that fans respond to big games, and this has turned into a big game.”
The Ravens also sold the initial allotment of playoff tickets they put on sale Wednesday.
Interest on the secondary market has surged, said Ralph Garcia, spokesman for the ticket aggregator TicketIQ. He said the average price for the Browns game was $244 on Wednesday, up from $150 at the beginning of the season. For a potential home playoff game the following weekend, the average price was $422.
Those numbers are way up from early November, when the team fell to 4-5 and average prices dipped as low as $130 for some games. “With one game to go, and the Ravens controlling their own destiny, demand is sky-high,” Garcia said.
In multiple ways, the Ravens have given fans what they’ve clamored for the past few years — an exciting young offensive star in quarterback Lamar Jackson, a dominant defense that evokes memories of the team’s golden age and a strong playoff push.
But if they’re winning over the skeptics, it took them most of the season to do so.
Fans list a wide range of reasons for staying away from the stadium, from unexciting teams on the field to ticket prices (the Ravens raised them in 2017) to safety concerns in downtown Baltimore to lingering disgust over Ravens players kneeling during the national anthem before the team’s game in London last season.
For many, it’s a simple matter of convenience. Why confront foul weather, snarled traffic and belligerent drunks when they can watch on immaculate flat-screen televisions from the toasty comfort of their couches?
Canton resident Jared Kurlander, 25, said he took any and every opportunity to attend Ravens games between 2005 and the team’s Super Bowl-winning season in 2012. But he’s mostly stayed home since then, in part because of growing interest in monitoring his fantasy football team on television and in part because of the Ravens’ mediocre play.
“Look, from 2008 to 2012, I’d pay the price,” he said. “But the team has been so mediocre I feel like it isn’t worth it. Football in general is a tough game to view unless you have really good seats.”
He added that if the Ravens make the playoffs, he’ll return to the stadium.
The Ravens have experimented with various ways to draw fans to the stands earlier, from lowering concessions prices to offering higher-end giveaways, such as the 30,000 purple scarves they handed out before their Dec. 16 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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They’ve also tested ways to reach younger customers, offering a $44 deal for tickets to the last two home games to those purchasing on the team’s mobile ticketing app.
“One of the things we’re always hearing is that the millennial generation, maybe they can’t afford your prices or maybe they lack commitment and don’t want to buy [permanent seat licenses],” Koppelman said. “So some of these offerings we’ve done have really been a chance to delve into that group and see how they respond.”
He’s optimistic about the future, with Jackson as a potential next-generation face for the franchise. “Everyone in sports is selling hope,” Koppelman said. “And if we can go into next year knowing we have a star young quarterback, that’s a good thing for any team to have.”
Several players joined Judon in urging fans to pack the stadium Sunday. But linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of the greatest hype men in franchise history, said he hasn’t perceived the city’s slow-burning embrace of this year’s team.
“I don’t know. I think when the games start, I kind of get tunnel vision,” Suggs said. “So, I really haven’t noticed. I don’t know. We’d like to have all of Charm City, all of Baltimore, Ravens fans in the building come Sunday.”