BALTIMORE - The Ravens appear to have made a lot of the right moves since the end of the 2018 season, but it is unclear if they can regain their strong fan base from the turn of the century until their last Super Bowl title in 2012.
Fan support and enthusiasm started to dwindle soon after superstar players Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed signed with the Houston Texans after the championship run six years ago. After the player kneeling incidents throughout the NFL in 2017, M&T Bank Stadium was half- and three-quarters-filled at times.
But there were signs that maybe the Ravens had regained some of the old magic at the end of last season. There was a wave of purple optimism throughout the stadium in the team's final regular-season win against Cleveland, which clinched the team's first AFC North title in six years, and a sellout crowd a week later when the Ravens lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in a wild-card playoff game.
Is the staunch support back or were the Ravens fans being fair-weathered again?
It's a combination of both, but Baltimore is known for having fans that jump on bandwagons. The true barometer will come in the first two or three games of the 2019 season. If the Ravens win and quarterback Lamar Jackson plays well, then the new wave of fan attention will continue. If they lose and Jackson falters, the Ravens will probably struggle with attendance again.
That's because fans here are so fickle. Every city loves a winner, but Baltimore only half-heartedly supports a loser. There was clear evidence of that in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium and in recent years with the Ravens.
Some will suggest the kneeling caused the major slide in attendance, but there's more to it. It's a combination of issues that caused the decrease. Fans who bought permanent seat licenses in 1996 are now older and some don't want to endure the poor weather conditions that accompany the games. Others don't like to make the trip into the city eight times a year.
The new-wave fan is different. Some of them have the attention span of a gnat. They are into selfies and Instagram. They'd prefer to go to the game for five minutes, take a selfie and then go to a bar and say, "Dude, I was there. Look at me."
Then there is the advent of fantasy football, which has decreased the allegiance between a fan and his favorite team. Today, fans have multiple favorite teams, and because they do, many prefer to go to a place with multiple screens than sit in a stadium and watch one game.
The Ravens also hurt themselves.
Before this past season, they hadn't been to the playoffs in several years and they played some of the worst offensive football in the NFL. They teased fans by not being able to secure a playoff bid in four of the previous five seasons.
But the organization has made some changes recently for the better.
The Ravens are allowing more fans into training camp over at The Castle even though they made a major blunder years ago by relocating camp from McDaniel College, which was fan-friendly and family-oriented. They've made major renovations to the stadium, including new jumbotrons and escalators to get fans into the upper sections.
Since the end of this season, they have extended the contract of head coach John Harbaugh and hired new personnel, including general manager Eric DeCosta, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and passing game coordinator David Culley.
Jackson has replaced veteran Joe Flacco as the starter, and even though it remains to be seen if he can win games as a passer from the pocket, he has caused excitement in town. He has game-changing ability and a certain pizzazz that this team has lacked.
It's one thing to bring in prominent veterans past their primes like Steve Smith Sr., Eric Weddle and Michael Crabtree, but there's a different feeling of pride when it's a drafted player and the community has a chance to grow with him.
There are going to be Jackson haters simply because he replaced Flacco, but there was a new buzz in town. Purple Fridays started to become more common again. Fans were wearing more purple at games. Early in the season, fans could purchase a Ravens ticket online for $20, but that wasn't the case toward the end. More purple banners started to appear on cars.
Was this permanent or just an aberration?
We'll know soon enough. If the Ravens start losing games early in the season, fans will start watching games on their phones instead of at M&T Bank Stadium.
It doesn't take long to lose their attention.
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