Ravens fans ponder making the playoff road trip

Posted: 7:21 pm Mon, January 4, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer 

Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, right, celebrates with linebacker Ray Lewis, center, and safety Ed Reed after Ellerbe intercepted Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell in the third quarter of Sunday’s game.Despite the relatively easy logistics of making the trip from Baltimore to Foxborough, Mass., Ravens fans this year may not be traveling in the same hordes as they did for last year’s first-round NFL playoff matchup.

After all, why sit for hours in the cold to watch your team try to steal one on the road from an opponent it has never beaten before?

“I think the Ravens can expect to see but a fraction of the fans that were there last year,” said Tony Lombardi, founder of the blog ProFootball24×7 and co-host of a Ravens talk show on Baltimore’s Fox Sports Radio (WVIE-AM), of the Ravens’ game against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Last year, thousands of Ravens fans traveled first to Miami, then Nashville, Tenn., and finally bitter rival Pittsburgh as the Ravens advanced in the playoffs.

That year was a surprise gift for fans. In the face of low expectations, the team, its rookie quarterback and first-year coach gave fans a run for their money before losing to the Steelers in the AFC Championship — one game shy of the Super Bowl.

But this year’s expectations were higher. And with the economy still slow, fans are more hesitant about their purchases.

One-night packages offered by WNST-AM radio in Baltimore range from $400 to $475 per person, while two- and three-night packages offered by RavensTrips.com range from $475 per person for one night to $800 for three nights.

“People are asking themselves, ‘If I’m going to justify spending this money, will it be a happy ending?’” said Lombardi. “I think with Miami and Tennessee [last year], people were pretty confident because the Ravens have a history of beating those teams. Therefore, they could justify it in their minds.”

Considering the weather, the opponent and the cost of the trip (when many people’s bank accounts are still recovering from the holiday season), making the road game this year is a tougher call.

“I think a lot of people developed the mentality this year of Super Bowl or bust,” said Tim Richardson, vice president of Maroon PR, a Marriottsville-based sports and entertainment firm. “You’ve seen a lot more people casting some doubt.”

That doesn’t mean the team won’t have a good contingent of fans there on Sunday. Cole Rubin, founder of the fan travel company RavensTrips.com said Monday that he has booked about 40 hotel, ticket and tailgate packages so far.

He sold 120 packages for last year’s second-round playoff game against Nashville and expects to sell just as many if not more for this weekend’s game because of New England’s proximity.

Nestor Aparicio, owner of WNST-AM, is running a bus trip to Providence, R.I., that includes game tickets, a hotel room and a tailgate bus to Foxborough. Aparicio said Monday he has sold out one, 55-seat bus and is halfway through his second. But he said he hasn’t seen as much interest this year compared with last year.

“The team just hasn’t been as great this year,” he said.

From a business perspective, the chance to sell playoff packages doesn’t make a big difference in tour operators’ bottom lines, said Rubin.

“They don’t add a tremendous amount because we have so little time to sell them,” he said. “Whereas the Green Bay package in December, we put on sale in April.”

But fewer fans can make a difference to the team, said Baker Koppelman, vice president of ticketing for the Baltimore Ravens.

“It makes a hostile environment a little more comfortable — especially in a playoff environment,” he said. “To know that your fans are there, to hear them yelling ‘Heeeeaaap’ when [Todd Heap] makes a catch, it takes the edge off a little.”

Koppelman said it was “a little early” to gauge ticket demand for the game, but he noted that the cold weather could play a factor in keeping people home this weekend. He also suggested that some may be hoping for the chance to travel next week to either San Diego or Indianapolis if the Ravens win Sunday.

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