In the past I’ve written about a big problem that the NFL faces. The league dances around it. They try to sweep it under the carpet and they hope no one is paying attention – particularly the league’s sponsors. Yet the problem lingers and looms like a skeleton in the NFL closet.
It’s not going away.
The skeleton has a name – empty seats. The live game experience can’t keep up with the rapidly increasing value of watching your favorite team from home.
And Cyber Monday, with all of the deals on curved Hi-Def TV’s, is right there today to remind you. For the cost of even 1 upper deck season ticket, you can score a sweet new television for your man cave.
No traffic, no bathroom lines, no security checkpoints, no outrageously expensive concessions, no parking fees and no annoying fans nearby to suck the enjoyment out of the game.
And while those unpleasant variables do affect the Ravens like they do all teams, there’s something else going on at M&T Bank Stadium.
In the past it was rare to see empty seats at “The Bank”. It was also rare (unless the Ravens hosted the Steelers), to have more than a few hundred of the opposing team’s fans in the building. We only need to look to the massive turnout of visiting Raiders and Redskins fans for proof that things aren’t quite the same.
But yesterday there it was, whether you witnessed it live or saw it on TV – thousands of empty seats.
Some say it’s the cost. Some say the Ravens fan based has become spoiled. Some say that since Super Bowl 47 the Ravens have become a boring team lacking an identity and star power. Some say that the novelty of having an NFL team has lost its luster and that given the Ravens small market, one boxed in by the ocean, the Eagles, the Steelers and the Redskins, there are fewer fans waiting around to scoop up the PSL’s.
Others conclude that millennials, who are growing in numbers at the games, harbor shorter attention spans and ADD-like symptoms. They aren’t opposed to showing up in the second quarter and leaving after the third. It’s no big deal because after they leave, they can watch from their NFL app or at a nearby bar.
Maybe the thinning crowds are the result of all the above.
But it is a concern.
I spoke with Steve Bisciotti at length during the summer of 2015. He’s deeply committed to Baltimore yet he admitted that he may not be the Ravens owner until the day he dies.
“I don’t know that I’ll be the owner 20 years from now. It does take a lot out of you and I don’t know that I’m [the owner] when I’m 75.”
“If I end up selling the team 10 years from now and there’s 2 years left on the lease [it runs through 2027], it’s going to create a tough situation for Baltimore with a new owner who would have leverage over the team and Baltimore, that I might not exercise myself. I’m 55 and I don’t see myself as the 65-year old guy who’s threatening to move the team if he doesn’t get a new stadium.”
Clearly the league has some challenges ahead to appease their fans.
And so too do the Ravens and the Maryland Stadium authority.
What is happening out there on game days could impact the next lease – if there is one.
Let’s hope the Maryland Stadium Authority doesn’t turn a blind eye towards their challenges the way Roger Goodell and his cronies skirt theirs.
Otherwise they might change the name to MT Bank Stadium.