With the Baltimore Ravens playing away games in Denver, Oakland, San Francisco and Arizona this season, Ravens fans out West have numerous opportunities to watch the purple and black in person or to connect with fan groups like The West Wing in the Los Angeles area.
Started by a filmmaker from Owings Mills, Md., a graphic artist who grew up on Loch Raven Boulevard and an engaging hair stylist from Perry Hall, Md., The West Wing has grown exponentially since its humble beginnings in the back of a barroom in 2010. Nick Slatkin, Pete Shaulis and Daniela Pane Peeler engaged on social media sites and scoured the area for fans wearing Ravens jerseys and Orioles caps.
"We had a lot people with specialized skills," The West Wing president Shaulis said. "Daniela is very pretty, and she would just go up to people and invite them to join us. I don't have those kind of looks."
The attractive hair stylist also shared a long-term connection to Slatkin. Her father had cut his father's hair for 40 years. That's called "Smalltimore," Los Angeles style.
It started slowly. Seven people watched the Ravens' season opener against the New York Jets in 2010 at a bar called The Parlor. That crowd grew to 50 three weeks later, when quarterback Joe Flacco found wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a game-winning 18-yard touchdown toss during a 17-14 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- a familiar occurrence in the recent era.
"I looked around and thought, ‘This is pretty nuts,'" said Slatkin, who has teamed up with Joe Unitas to make a movie, "Unitas" about his father, Johnny Unitas. "That's when it started to take off. A ton of people from Maryland and D.C. are in Los Angeles."
The fan group was first called "Baltimore Ravens Fans in LA & OC," then Shaulis had a moment of inspiration.
"It just came to me in my living room one day," said Shaulis, the graphic designer who creates the group's logos and T-shirts. "The West Wing, it just felt right."
During the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl season, the group took a road trip to San Diego to watch the Ravens rally to beat the Chargers, 16-13, in overtime after an incredible fourth-and-29 conversion by running back Ray Rice.
"There were 2,000 fans at the tailgate," Slatkin said. "It was incredible. [Orioles center fielder] Adam Jones was there. Late in the game, we were sitting in the end zone getting heckled. When that play happened, we stared back at the Charger fans and didn't say a word -- it was a magical season."
Other celebrities and players who've attended The West Wing gatherings include ex-Baltimore fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Channel 13/WJZ's Marty Bass, Baltimore receiver Marlon Brown, actor Josh Charles, The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck and former Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper.
The West Wing now calls Happy Endings bar on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood home. Utz potato chips, crab cakes and fries seasoned with Old Bay are served. There is also an annual crab feast.
"We have mascots that fire up the crowd and a pregame ‘What time is it?' speech," Slatkin said. "We take a group picture at halftime."
There are weekly podcasts with member and former baltimoreravens.com writer Mike Duffy and Google Hangout sessions with other Ravens fan groups. The West Wing shares the tactics behind its success story with other purple-and-black contingents trying to build a following. The group's Facebook page has more than 3,000 likes, and interested fans can also find more information at thewestwingla.com.
"We definitely undervalued ourselves at the beginning," Shaulis said. "We didn't want to push too hard. Then, we realized we could bring 60 people to a place every single week and went in with a list of demands."
The founders still make it back to M&T Bank Stadium for one game every year. Slatkin went to the home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals Sept. 27.
"Constant retention every week is hard," said Slatkin, who recently relocated to New York City. "The games come on early in the morning on Sunday. On Thursday nights, people are leaving early from work."
Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations, Kevin Byrne, and vice president of public relations, Chad Steele, have taken an interest in the group. Slatkin delivered 80 The West Wing T-shirts to the Under Armour Performance Center last year. It's still all about winning football games. The Ravens' rocky start to the season had Slatkin concerned.
"I'm worried about the offense this year," Slatkin said. "How are we going to stretch the field? The sky is definitely falling when we lose. It's been an up-in-the-air season so far."
A previous version of this story incorrectly identifies the name of Slatkin's movie. PressBox regrets the error.