Ravens' Attendance Unaffected By Usual Drawbacks
CROWDS STILL PRESENT DESPITE AREA'S PROBLEMS
By Joe Platania
The Ravens are Baltimore's top sports attraction, the Orioles' temporary resuscitation notwithstanding.
During recent years, the many factors that could chip away at any team's attendance figures have failed to dent the fanaticism surrounding the local football entity:
- POPULATION DECLINE: A recent report showed that Charm City's population has fallen to roughly 615,000 people (24th-most in the nation) with non-Sun Belt areas such as Seattle and Boston passing it by.
- SLOW ECONOMY: The earning and buying power of most Americans still hasn't recovered to the extent that people feel as good about their bank accounts as they did before the autumn of 2008.
- LABOR STRIFE: The NFL's 4.5-month lockout in 2011 didn't sour people against the sport the way Major League Baseball's eight labor stoppages since 1972 have, particularly the 1981 and 1994 strikes.
- LOSING: The Ravens have been one of the NFL's most consistent squads. They are the only team that has made the postseason tournament the last four years, as well as during eight of the last 12 seasons.
Despite such real and potential maladies, the Ravens -- a team that has sold out all 164 pre-, regular- and postseason games in its history -- are still among a handful of NFL teams that continue to operate at or higher than 100 percent of stadium capacity on a yearly basis.
As far as average per-game attendance is concerned, Baltimore's high-water mark actually occurred in 2008, when 71,269 per game (100.4 percent capacity) packed M&T Bank Stadium during the first season of the John Harbaugh head-coaching era.
But the falloff since then has been negligible; last year's eight regular-season home games drew a 71,224 average (100.3), the fifth straight year the Ravens have found themselves in the league's highest echelon since stadium capacity was expanded to 71,008 in 2007.
The '07 season also marked the most recent instance when a double-digit number of teams drew fans at a 100 percent capacity rate or greater; in fact, 14 such teams posted that figure. Since then, no single season has featured more than nine NFL clubs drawing at such a pace.
All told, leaguewide attendance has fallen four consecutive years, including a 4.5 percent decline in 2011. Taking all 32 teams into account, 17.2 million fans watched NFL regular-season games last year.
Despite that huge number, the slow economy and fan dissatisfaction in some cities has also led to a rise in local blackouts, whereby a game would not air on local television within a 75-mile radius of the stadium for a team that didn't sell out its stadium before the pre-kickoff deadline.
But two significant pieces of news could help stem that tide.
First, leaguewide blackouts in 2011 fell from 26 to 16, and they involved just four teams: San Diego (two), Buffalo (three), Tampa Bay (five) and Cincinnati (six), the team that famously offered a two-for-one ticket promotion for its home game with the Ravens last year, ensuring an artificial sellout of sorts.
Secondly, the league has gone ahead with a plan whereby the blackout rule, which has been in effect since 1973, has been amended so that teams will need to sell only 85 percent of its seats to get the game on local TV.
It's possible that such momentum will help struggling franchises such as Buffalo, Cincinnati and particularly Jacksonville to build up their fan bases to the point that they can claim the kind of track record Baltimore and other cities have, not to mention avoid a move to Los Angeles, a market the NFL may try to recapture.
But when it comes to capturing passionate lightning in a bottle, there are few, if any cities, that can match what Baltimore has already done.
Posted July 5, 2012