Last season ended in an ugly and unseemly fashion for the Ravens, not only on the field. We all remember the Ravens being blocked from the postseason by that painful Bengals final minute, 4th and 12 play in Week 17 which will live infamy, but similarly concerning problems were occurring off the field.
The majority of the Ravens season was marked by fan protests, empty seats at home games and an often uneven atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium. The basis of the fan disgruntlement varies depending on who you ask: was it anthem protests, poor performances or an amalgam of the two with other issues?
I was present in London’s Wembley Stadium for the Week 3 match-up with the Jacksonville Jaguars. What should have been a joyous occasion for thousands of traveling Ravens fans seeing their time play abroad for the first time, quickly became a nightmare as the team was dismantled. But despite the disastrous 44-7 scoreline, the longer-lasting scar may have been left by the reaction and fallout to this….
After God Save the Queen had rung out through Wembley, I watched with interest the reaction of visiting Ravens fans as they saw their players genuflect to the strains of the Star Spangled Banner. It was easy to discern the tourists from the UK natives – many of the American fans were clearly angry, some loudly and profanely so.
Ravens players also knelt the following week at Heinz Stadium, with a similarly negative fan reaction.
The team was unable to shake free of the controversy, which dogged it for the remainder of the season. Inconsistent play didn’t help matters, and the typically lively, loud and loyal fanbase became listless, leery and lethargic. The dissatisfaction was so obvious and inescapable that in December, team president Dick Cass wrote an open letter to season ticket holders and sponsors in an effort to salve the wounds and encourage absentee fans back to home games.
“We have had significant numbers of no-shows in the past when our play on the field has not met the high standard we and you have set for the Ravens,” Cass wrote. “But this year has been different. The numbers are higher, and it is noticeable. There are a number of reasons for the no-shows, but surely the one-time protest in London has been a factor.”
Apparently there are still concerns within the Ravens organization, as on Tuesday the team announced that concession prices will be reduced for homes games in the 2018 season. Full details of the plan will be unveiled at a press conference on Thursday, but it seems fair to assume that this is part of the Ravens’ wider strategy to re-engage with disillusioned fans.
What differences can we expect to see in 2018? We have no idea if there will be further protests, but one would assume that there will be internal pressure to avoid a recurrence of the 2017 controversies. An improved on-field product would certainly help matters, and the front office has made numerous moves to that effect, signing and drafting more playmakers to kickstart an offense that oscillated last year between being uninspiring and utterly putrid.
Change in any form typically engenders curiosity, and there has been plenty of change at Ravens HQ in Owings Mills. Fans who were Ozzie Newsome sceptics will be excited about what the Eric DeCosta reign as general manager will bring with it, while those who have grown tired with Joe Flacco’s inconsistent play and hefty contract now have the Lamar Jackson era to look forward to.
How all of this will manifest itself on home gamedays remains to be seen. It’s reasonable to expect that on September 9, M&T Bank Stadium will be heaving with expectant and enthusiastic fans, eager for their football fix and the chance to exact vengeance on the Bills, the team that went to the playoffs having benefited Baltimore’s late failure last season. Fans have the organization on a short leash though, and if the team doesn’t play – and conduct itself – as many demand, then the honeymoon may be short-lived.