Can the University of Maryland and football coach Randy Edsall successfully draw more players and fans from Baltimore to College Park?
By Michael Anft
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But can he and the university's athletic brain trust win enough of them over to turn the football squad's fortunes around?
Maryland honchos regard the flask as half-full. They see exciting players such as wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who is from Gaithersburg, and a healthy C.J. Brown at quarterback as the kinds of stars who can draw new fans in. The team should be closer to a winning record than it has been since Edsall took over in 2011. Baltimore's population is big enough to guarantee at least a small uptick in interest and attendance.
To get all those positives working synergistically, the athletic department has taken on John Maroon, president of Maroon PR, as a consultant to help the Terps crack into the Baltimore market.
"Baltimore's a football town," Maroon said. "One thing that struck Randy was the parade after the Super Bowl and how people came in droves to see the Ravens. We just have to reach people like them. We already know through the alumni association and the Terrapin Club that there are Maryland people we can get to. As this year plays out, you'll see more advertisements about the team. We haven't been as aggressive about marketing as we have needed to be."
Ads are only part of the deal. Maryland players have spent time in Baltimore in 2013 visiting sick, hospital-bound children and other young people in city neighborhoods. Edsall held an open team practice at Dunbar, and has become a fixture at local high school games. He regularly gives talks to fan groups in Charm City.
"We're trying to be the football team for the entire state," said Nathan Pine, the university's deputy athletic director for external operations. "We're doing everything in our power to make it easier to get to Byrd and to make it more attractive. We'll have food trucks, inflatables for kids to play in."
The university has kept ticket prices low as well, Pine said. A lower-level ticket to all 2013 home games costs $329. A family four-pack costs $150 per person or $37.50 per game, a far cry from the Ravens' average ticket cost of $100 per game.
Getting people excited about state pride is also part of the formula. For the past two years, the Terps have worn Under Armour Maryland Pride uniforms, which feature the Maryland state flag.
"In the Big Ten, people travel much more than 90 minutes to get to games," Pine said. "Here, we're asking people to drive 45 minutes."
Will it all work? We'll begin to find out Sept. 21, when the Terps take on West Virginia and its wide-open offense at M&T Bank Stadium, perhaps after a pep rally university officials are thinking about holding. We should know more by October 2015, when the Terps introduce Big Ten football to Baltimore with a game against Penn State at M&T Bank Stadium.
In terms of attendance and money, the Baltimore games' success isn't a major concern for university officials, who have worked out some guarantees with the Ravens for the crowd at those games, Pine said. M&T Bank Stadium holds 71,000 people. When Maryland played Navy in 2010, the game drew more than 69,000 -- good news for the team and local businesses.
"The Maryland-Navy game pumped approximately $8 million in economic impact into the Baltimore region," said Terry Hasseltine, director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing, the state agency responsible for placing sports events in the state and promoting them. "We anticipate a similar to greater effect with other neutral games at M&T Bank."
Hasseltine said the overall economic impact of the games would depend on whether fans of the Terps and their opponents helped fill local hotels, bars and restaurants.
But will that outpouring of cash and fandom flow south -- say, 33 miles south? The Terps are betting it will. And with Maryland joining a high-profile football conference in 2014, it had better be right.
"Baltimoreans, like the people in New Jersey who follow Rutgers [another 2014 entrant into the Big Ten], have no idea what big-time college football is about," Maroon said. "Now, they're going to get it. There's the potential for a whole new level of energy, and we plan to tap it."
Special thanks to the Costas Inn for providing the crabs pictured in this article. To find out more about the Costas Inn, visit costasinn.com.
Issue 187: July 2013