One trip to Westminster…

August 19, 2007 | Drew Forrester

A morning or afternoon at McDaniel College is all it takes for anyone to see why the Ravens are so wildly popular these days.

Sandwiched in and around Ethan’s arrival, I made it out to Westminster five times during the Ravens ’07 training camp at McDaniel.  Friday, I went more just to “hang-out” than work (even though I did partake in the media lunch at the team hotel…shhh…don’t tell anyone) and it was then that I realized just how “spot-on” the Ravens are when it comes to marketing their product at training camp.

To sum it all up — kids, kids and more kids.  Game, games and more games.  Football, football and more football.  Autographs, autographs and more autographs.

Everything at McDaniel was produced to excess, and it worked perfectly.

The Ravens have it all figured out.  Take these three weeks each summer and tell the staff, coaches and players – “We’re going to work hard at practice and work twice hard at making friends with the fans…that’s what this three weeks is all about.”

The players get it.  They know, once camp breaks in Westminster, the days of “open to the public” are few and far between for them, unless they venture out on their own to a local restaurant, mall or shopping center.  There, they’re free game for curious onlookers, autograph hounds or fans who just want to say “hi”.  In-season, practices are closed off to the fans and it really is 4 months of work done mostly behind closed doors until the real product is unveiled on Sunday afternoon 16 times from September through December. That’s a fair trade, right?  Three weeks of “this is your life” vs. 20 some-odd weeks of “behind closed doors”…who wouldn’t take that?

So that makes training camp even MORE important, as this is the only chance the team gets to make a good, PERSONAL impression on the people who pay their salaries.  And the players know the drill.  ALL the players, in fact.  On Friday, I watched Ray Lewis sign autographs for at least 20 minutes after practice.  That shows the other guys on the team what’s expected of them – “Well, if #52 is gonna sign for 20 minutes, I have to do the same thing…”

It’s a 3-week love-in that gives youngsters the chance to see their hero in a way they won’t see him until, well, NEXT July.  Sure, those kids can watch the games on TV – or go to M&T Bank Stadium – but to see them up close and personal, sweating, laughing with their teammates, cutting off their tape, giving their equipment to one of the staffers…these are things not seen every day and, to the young eye, this proves the human element of the game and the player.

The Ravens are smart.  Very smart, in fact.  They KNOW the future of their ticket buyers, corporate sponsors and tailgaters are 8, 10 and 12 year old boys and girls.  That’s right …Y OU were 12 once.  So was the guy (or girl, perhaps) from corporate Chevrolet who signed on with the Ravens to be their presenting training camp sponsor this year.  We were ALL 12 once.  And the Ravens have figured out the time to capture their loyalty is NOW … and if they do the right thing over the next 8-10 years, those 12-year olds become 22-year olds with jobs…and a taste for beer, fun and football.  And, eventually, those 22-year olds become 30-year old parents and, well, you understand how the cycle works, right?

Everywhere you looked on Friday, it was purple passion to the max.  Honestly, I’d be willing to guess that at least 70% of those in attendance were wearing some piece of Ravens gear – jersey, shirt, hat, etc.  These weren’t people out on a lark – “Hey, the football team is practicing today, wanna drive an hour out of the way and stand around in stifling 100 degree heat and watch them run around for a couple of hours?” – these were fans who built their week, spent their vacation time, and organized their LIVES around going out to spend the day with the Ravens…or a couple of days, perhaps.

I declared before I wrote this blog that I’d go the entire piece without making some kind of comparison to the baseball team.  And I did.  The Ravens have such a stranglehold on the city that there IS no comparison right now.  Every time they step to the plate, they seemingly hit a home-run, no pun intended.

Come to think of it, though, in that sea of purple, I did see two kids wearing baseball caps of the local team.  Just for kicks, and to prove a point, I guess, I went up to them, took their hats off and said, “Hey, who’s your favorite player?”

They both said the same name:  “Dmitri Young”

Hmmm…I guess I haven’t been around Camden Yards much.  I had no idea Dmitri Young was  even with the Orioles this season.