This past Saturday evening, listener Steve sent me the following e-mail:
I just got home from College Park after attending today’s game between Maryland and Virginia. On the way home, the four of us in the car decided you would be the best guy to answer the question we had been discussing for about 45 minutes. The question was this, “Why doesn’t Baltimore care about Maryland football?” Here’s our background if that matters. And we all agreed that would be one of the first things you would ask when you read this. Where are you guys from? Did you go to Maryland? All four of us are Baltimore guys. All born and raised here. Only one of the four of us went to Maryland. We have varying opinions on why there’s no passion for Maryland football in Baltimore and thought we’d see what you have to say. Thanks alot.
My reply to Steve comes in the form of today’s edition of Drew’s Morning Dish.
Why doesn’t Baltimore care about Maryland football?
For starters, I need to pinpoint what I believe Baltimore’s level of interest actually is in the Maryland football program. To say “Baltimore doesn’t care about Maryland football” isn’t fair. Some folks in Baltimore DO care about the Terps football program. But, the interest level here is admittedly minimal. In rating the “level” of interest, let’s say this. As a sports community, it’s fair to say Baltimore’s interest in the Ravens is a 9.5 The only reason it’s not a “10″ is that there are sports fans in town who, for reasons only they know, either aren’t Ravens fans or football fans. Still, to me, the sports community in Baltimore is a 9.5 when it comes to the Ravens. I’d say Baltimore’s level of interest for the Orioles is 8. While clearly not as interested in the baseball team as they are the football team, Baltimore is still engaged with the Orioles to a large degree, particularly when they’ve been competitive over the last couple of years. Maryland basketball probably comes in at a 5 or 5.5 on the rating scale. While nowhere near as popular or “followed” as Ravens football or Orioles basketball, Terps basketball is still a “player” in the Baltimore market.
So, where does that leave Maryland football on my scale? I’d say they’re a 2.5…in Baltimore.
How is it, then, that the state school’s football program creates so little interest in the biggest city in the state?
Here’s the easy answer, but one that requires a lot more discussion and thorough review of the last twenty five years or so: Maryland football isn’t important in Baltimore because the folks in College Park have never really marketed the sport here.
On a large scale, Terps football has no footprint at all on the sports landscape of Baltimore. If you stopped fifty people in Towson Town Mall today who acknowledged they were sports fans and asked them who the Ravens play this Sunday, I’d say 40 of the 50 know it’s the Steelers. If you asked those same people who Maryland plays this Saturday, I’d say five would be the maximum number who would know the Terps are at Wake Forest. And five might be high, honestly.
I was at a restaurant in Timonium this past Saturday night while the Terps were finishing up their exciting 27-26 win over Virginia. Interestingly enough, I hadn’t even seen Steve’s e-mail but something struck me as I sat down with golfing friends and enjoyed a meal and some drinks while the game was on in the background. No one in the restaurant or the bar was watching the Maryland football game. Two of us in my group – me and my friend Dale Williams – were glued to the TV. No one else at the tables and no one in the bar area was fixed on the TV screen that had the STATE SCHOOL playing a key conference game. I intentionally got up at one point and canvassed the bar, where 20-25 people were stationed, and no one was paying attention to the Maryland game.
The absence of Terps football marketing isn’t really a new trend here. In my lifetime – all of it spent in Baltimore – Maryland has never really marketed the football program to anyone outside of the general College Park/D.C. area. Even when the team was good back in the early part of the Ralph Friedgen era, there wasn’t much in the way of marketing and promotions in the Baltimore market. Ralph would begrudgingly make the 45-minute drive up the parkway once a year to chat with 100 or so Maryland die hards at a swanky downtown Baltimore restaurant and then he wouldn’t be seen again until the following September. Aside from some regular coaches interviews on WNST, there was no regular media presence from Maryland at all during the Friedgen era. The same, I’m sure, can be said for the 80′s and 90′s when head coaches popped in and out of College Park and no one in Baltimore knew what they looked like or when the Terps home opener was every September.
I can’t ever remember Maryland athletics making a concerted effort to actively recruit football fans in Baltimore to College Park five or six times a year.
Over the last 15 years, the program has been bad, very good, good, not-so-good, downright awful and now, on the road to maybe being good again. And yet, even in that time, interest in Baltimore hasn’t really changed all that much. Let’s say for argument sake that Maryland would have gone down to Tallahassee two weeks ago and stunned Florida State 29-23. Would the Maryland ticket office be inundated with calls from “443″ or “410″ asking how they can get tickets to the big Clemson home game coming up in a couple of weeks? I doubt it.
Would more people throughout the state have increased interest in Maryland if they were 6-0 right now? Yes, perhaps. But, would the home games be complete sell-outs between now and the end of the season? Nope.
I bring up “winning” to counter any claims of “if they win in College Park, fans will come…” More fans might come, actually, if Maryland football becomes a powerhouse, but my guess is those people will be streaming in from Bethesda, Rockville, Wheaton, Germantown and Bladensburg — not Baltimore.
In Baltimore, there’s so little interest overall in Terps football that nothing short of a national title would probably get the city to get off its rear end and caravan down the BW Parkway to College Park for a football game.
It’s not up to the sports fans here in town to change the way they think about Maryland football.
It’s up to Maryland to pull them in. Market to them. Advertise your product. Promote your kids and the coaching staff.
Act like you care about the Baltimore market and folks might respond by buying a ticket.
One thing for certain: Ignoring Baltimore isn’t doing anything of value.
I can only speak for my radio show and not the others that have been on in this market for the last decade or so while I’ve been on the air. Since I do twenty hours of live radio every week, I assume it’s fair to use what I do for a living as a fair barometer for gauging the interest level of Maryland football. Other shows in town could do the same thing, but since I haven’t listened to them all, I can’t. This much I do know. Despite promoting nearly every game of Maryland football so far this season with guests from either the broadcast team, the visiting media or the Washington D.C. or Baltimore media that regularly covers the Terps, do you know how many Maryland football calls I’ve received since Labor Day this year? What’s your guess? How about this: Two. And since I’ve been doing the show on my own in 2006, I would say, honestly, I’ve received a total of ten phone calls – in about eight years – on Maryland football.
In contrast to that data above, Terps basketball calls come in regularly during their season. It’s not anything close to Ravens or Orioles calls, but within the walls of their season I’ll field Maryland hoops calls every single week. I go months and months without hearing from one Maryland football fan about last week’s game or this week’s big ACC showdown with (insert team here).
Some of what’s happened to Maryland football in Baltimore is NOT the University’s fault.
It’s been the ACC’s fault.
The conference’s desperate reach for television dollars has disabled schools who otherwise might be able to have their games aired in their home market. Think about this: Maryland football doesn’t have a local TV “home” in either Baltimore or Washington. Their games are almost non-existent in Baltimore unless you have a laptop with you. The possibility certainly exists that none of the local stations would “invest” in a Maryland football package, but I have to think someone in town would gamble on a partnership with Terps football if the ACC didn’t have such a stranglehold on the program’s live broadcast rights.
And, because of the TV schedule, kick-off times for Maryland football are rarely known more than two weeks in advance of the game. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to sell tickets to games when you can’t tell folks what time to be there, but somehow Maryland (and other schools) seems to do it anyway.
In Baltimore, though, the absence of a TV broadcast partner where the games are always on and the station itself is dedicated to promoting the football program is most certainly one of the reasons why the sports community here isn’t engaged with Maryland.
Things aren’t likely to improve next season when the Terps join the Big Ten. With their own lucrative TV network, the Big Ten isn’t going to allow any of their schools to “cut their own deals” within their marketplace. Maryland won’t suffer financially, of course, because the Big Ten Network generates money for each of the conference schools. But, it will suffer in the same area it suffers now in Baltimore, namely in exposure and marketing. These problems aren’t an issue in Columbus, Ohio, where everyone in town knows the Buckeyes football schedule backwards and forwards. Lack of exposure and marketing isn’t a problem in Ann Arbor or Lansing or Happy Valley.
Baltimore, only 40 miles from College Park, should be a proverbial “hotbed” for college football interest in our state, particularly as far as the Terps go, but there’s nothing in town connecting potential Terps fans with the actual product itself.
Television is the ultimate connector, of course.
And there’s just no connection in Baltimore when it comes to Maryland football on your TV screen.
One of the most obvious “issues” facing Maryland and its “Baltimore problem” is the mere fact that College Park is situated comfortably alongside the Washington D.C. beltway.
Yes, it’s the state school.
But geography doesn’t lie.
College Park is a suburb of Washington D.C.
If, for instance, the University of Maryland was situated on the land that is currently occupied by UMBC, Maryland would be a “Baltimore school” and all of this argument would be moot.
And, to juxtapose the current situation, I can’t imagine the Washington Post and the four D.C. TV stations would cover Maryland sports the way they do now if UM was off Wilkens Avenue in Catonsville.
This is also where I should note – quickly – that Navy Football does far more marketing in Baltimore than Maryland football. There are Navy billboards up in town, Navy radio ads on the air and Navy even purchases in-stadium signage at Oriole Park that you see both in person and during MASN TV broadcasts. Navy Football tries to market to the Baltimore sports fan. They really do.
Now, back to Maryland: Part of Baltimore’s lack of interest in Maryland football isn’t necessarily Randy Edsall’s fault — after all, he’s not the one who decided the state school would be on the outskirts of Washington D.C. and not in the heart of Baltimore.
That said — Edsall and his football program do play a role in the marketing of the product in Charm City. Perhaps this issue goes above the coach’s paygrade, but if Maryland really valued Baltimore and wanted to go overboard in their marketing efforts here, they would schedule one home game per-season at M&T Bank Stadium.
For all we know, the dirty little secret in College Park might be that Baltimore is more of a nuisance than a help. They might completely object to playing one home-game per-season “up there”. Edsall might say, “So, you actually want me to play five home games, a neutral site game, and six road games…” As a coach, he’s only concerned about winning, and rightfully so, I might add.
That’s where someone above him has to say, “Yes, we know playing in Baltimore once a year presents a unique problem in that we’re potentially affecting your chance to win and lose games, but for the benefit of the football program and athletic department as a whole, it’s mandatory we schedule a game there every Fall.” It doesn’t have to be Ohio State or Michigan every year, either. Throw in Purdue or Minnesota or Illinois and give Baltimore an “A opponent” once every four or five years. Having a Maryland football game in Baltimore should be an annual “ritual” that the sports community learns to embrace and celebrate.
It’s a problem that requires a head coach and his staff to truly “get it” and understand without hesitation that catering to Baltimore isn’t just something you do in recruiting…but it’s also mandatory you do it with the way you market your program and help increase its visibility every single season.
Randy Edsall has done a nice job himself of connecting with Baltimore. He brought the team to Dunbar for an open practice and he’s occasionally been seen at various high schools in the area watching games. They’ve recruited Baltimore kids at Maryland…and that, too, is an important connective step for Edsall and his staff.
But on a scale of 1-to-10, that’s about a “3″ in terms of making Baltimore as a whole feel warm and fuzzy about Maryland football.
Again, not speaking for anyone but my own show, I look at the fact that Randy Edsall hasn’t appeared on my show once this season and say, “No wonder we don’t get any calls about Maryland football…”. How many other sports talk shows in town has Edsall appeared on this Fall to spread the word about his program and our state school? My guess: Very few.
By the way, that’s not necessarily Randy Edsall’s fault. He’s a football coach. He shouldn’t be concerned about appearing on radio shows in Baltimore. Someone, though, in the Maryland athletic department should be looking at Baltimore as a market and making it his or her job to get Edsall on the air here and at the other sports-dominated radio programs in town. And that person then says to Randy, “In a couple of weeks, we’re going to need you for an hour one Tuesday morning to do five or six phone interviews from your office to talk about the upcoming home game.”
Maryland’s athletic department does nothing at all to connect with the Baltimore sports fan when it comes to Terps football.
That, in and of itself, is one of the biggest obstacles and roadblocks that Maryland has created over the years with regard to Baltimore. They’ve simply stopped caring.
Actually, they never STARTED caring about Baltimore. Not enough to make a major impact, anyway.
And that’s why people like Steve sent me that e-mail on Saturday.