Like everyone else, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome noticed the empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium this past season. And like his boss, team owner Steve Bisciotti, Newsome insists that one thing will reverse that trend: winning.
That remains to be seen.
The Ravens are reckoning with fan disenchantment and apathy at a level they have not faced previously in their 22-year history. There are numerous factors for it, but the team has acknowledged that the anthem protest in London -- in which several players knelt during the national anthem to protest racial injustices and statements made by President Donald Trump -- angered and alienated a significant portion of its fan base.
The lackluster play on the field has also been a factor. Since winning the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, the Ravens have gone 40-40, including 9-7 this past year, and have missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. The roster has lacked dynamic superstars, and an offense that looked inept at times this year and ranked among the league's worst drew torrents of criticism from fans.
Across the league, many fans are choosing to stay home for other factors as well, including escalating ticket and parking prices, crowd violence in some venues and the quality of the product available at home on high-definition television.
Still, the final Ravens home games of the 2017 season featured thousands of empty seats, a startling sight for a team that has enjoyed seemingly unwavering support throughout two decades and was in the playoff hunt until literally the final minute of the season.
To be sure, the NFL and Mother Nature did the Ravens no favors, with the season-finale flexed to late afternoon on New Year's Eve and with a game-time temperature of 19 degrees, making it the coldest game ever at M&T Bank Stadium.
"We're here to win games; we're here to succeed, and when we fail, the no-shows are a way of telling us that our fans aren't pleased," Bisciotti said at his news conference. "So, we've got to win. And I hope that solves the majority of the problems."
The team has acknowledged that the players anthem protest hit a nerve -- team president Dick Cass wrote an open letter to season-ticket holders that read, in part "surely the one-time protest in London has been a factor" in the no-shows -- but team officials think the answer to the attendance issue lies in the win column.
"Not only does Steve see [the empty seats], I see that,"
Newsome said at the NFL Scouting Combine
March 2. "I'm there at every home game, and I look around our stands, and I see that it's not the same as it was. And you know what? When I get the product better on the field, I think our fans are going to show up."