Maryland football needs to embrace Baltimore

October 17, 2007 | Drew Forrester

In a Maryland football blog in today’s edition of The Sun, Heather Dinich chronicles the frustrations of Terps coach Ralph Friedgen, who is evidently not pleased with a rash of non-sellout crowds this season at Byrd Stadium.  The most recent home game against Georgia Tech two weekends ago saw 47,500 file into the 51,500 seat facility, a figure that rankled Friedgen enough for him to say, “I don’t understand it…I figured after we beat a top 10 team (Rutgers), people would be excited and would want to see us play.”

First off, Ralph needs to understand that 47,000 (or 48k, 49k, etc.) is not a number to sneeze at when evaluating the crowds at College Park.  Sure, it’s not the 100,000 that watch Tennessee or Michigan play in their respective venues, but, obviously, Maryland is to Michigan football what the Orioles are to the Yankees.  In other words, they play the same sport, but the comparisons pretty much stop there in terms of tradition, heritage and overall value of the school/team.

Maryland’s basketball program is well followed by Baltimore sports fans, if phone calls, e-mails, etc. into my show and the others on WNST Radio are any barometer of the market’s overall interest in Gary Williams’ program.  The same can’t be said for Ralph’s team.  Maryland football hardly generates any phone calls or e-mails on my show, but I’ll be the first to admit that most Monday feedback from listeners is all about the Ravens – and the Ravens – and the Ravens.  Maryland gets pushed aside quite a bit during football season because their schedule often times collides with Baltimore’s pro football team.

But people GOING to the games and talking about it on talk radio two days later shouldn’t have much to do with one another.  Maryland has, for reasons maybe only they know and wish to keep secret, gently distanced itself from the Baltimore market over the last several years.  The Terps did play a game against Navy back in 2005 at M&T Bank Stadium and by all accounts, the contest was an overwhelming success in the stands (65k) and on the field (Maryland won in in the final minute).  It was exactly the kind of environment Maryland should be cultivating in Baltimore at least once a year.  Given that the largest chapter of the Terrapin Club is stationed right here in Charm City, wouldn’t it make sense to schedule one home game per-year “up here”?  I’m sure the higher-ups at Maryland have a half-dozen legitimate political reasons to not bring a Terps game to Baltimore every fall.  Fair enough.  Plenty of fans here in Baltimore have reasons not to go to Terps football games at College Park too.  There needs to be a discernible “quid pro quo” for at least a 5-year period and only Maryland athletics can initiate that effort.  Having a game here and giving Baltimore a chance to celebrate our state school’s football program is a critical step.

When I talked about Terps football today on the air, I received a number of phone calls and, at last count, about 25 e-mails from either current or former Maryland pigskin season ticket holders.  Oddly enough, a great number of those with complaints voiced similar issues – not knowing most of the game times until the week before the home game (not the school’s fault – blame that on the ACC/NCAA TV deals)…lack of preferred parking at Byrd unless you arrive 3-4 hours before kick-off…and an overall drop-off in play in the ACC that has made the meat of the home schedule somewhat unappealing, depending on the unbalanced schedule and who happens to be the hot or cold team in the league that year.  By the way, I agree that ACC football is just not that compelling these days.  It’s certainly not even close to as dramatic and interesting as ACC basketball, needless to say.

Maryland’s marketing and advertising efforts in Baltimore seem to be casual, at best.  Their flagship station essentially serves as nothing more than a check collector and a method for fans to listen to away games.  Rarely, if ever, does the Baltimore flagship ever promote the team in a manner consistent with, say, the Ravens or Orioles.  While occasional game-ticket advertising appears in The Sun, the ads themselves are fairly drab, not terribly informative and do little to move the reader to get excited about the upcoming game.  The Terps furnish an assistant coach every Wednesday during the season for a 10-15 minute interview with WNST during football season and that gives Terp football junkies an “inside look” at what’s going on at College Park.  Last season, I handled those duties during The Comcast Morning Show.  This year, the Terps football report is on The Bob Haynie Show, who forgot more about Terps football last Sunday while eating breakfast than you and I combined will ever know.  But a year ago, Ralph Friedgen was scheduled to appear with me as part of the regular weekly Terps coaches report on two separate occasions – both times, Ralph failed to fulfill his obligation and didn’t call the show.  So, for someone interested in wanting to know “where all the people are”, Ralph needs to take a look at his own ability to self-market the team here in Baltimore.  Recruiting, marketing, winning, advertising, full stadiums, playing games in Baltimore – it all goes hand in hand.  Ralph might be surprised at how receptive Baltimore would be on a variety of levels if he’d show the same interest in us.

The University of Maryland has always been regarded as the state school by mandate, rather than by emotion, here in Baltimore.  There’s a strong feeling of support for the basketball program – and a general apathy towards football these days.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  As I wrote earlier, a portion of that apathy could be simply the time of year — we have plenty to focus on here in Baltimore from September until January.  But once the Ravens are finished, we have nothing but Terps basketball to follow until the Orioles go 5-11 in April.  Still, Ralph’s probably feeling the same things I’m feeling.  That people in Baltimore aren’t willing to go nuts over Terps football.

If they reached out to us up here, maybe more people would reach out to them, down there.

In the meantime, though, continuing to win and establishing a tradition of excellence is a good way to keep people interested and attract new fans.  If the Terps can master that philosophy, market well in Baltimore, and get people in this city interested in them, perhaps they can bottle that recipe and sell it to the Orioles.