by Mark VivianoBy Mark Viviano

Following the Ravens most recent victory, a win over the Browns in Cleveland that improved the Ravens record to 8-and-6, head coach John Harbaugh said in his post-game press conference, “Baltimore Ravens fans are incredible and I think they’re starting to get excited about this football team.”

Fourteen games into a 16-game NFL season and just now fans are getting excited about a playoff-bound team? That’s unusual for the Ravens.

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It’s been an unusual season. The team has long sought to get a Monday Night home game but when they played and beat the Houston Texans in prime time at M&T Banks Stadium on November 27, the stadium was not filled to capacity.

I asked Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs if he’s noticed the number of empty seats at M&T Bank stadium this season.

“Nah, I haven’t noticed,” he said. “I thought it’s been loud in there. I haven’t noticed but we could use their help.”

The players may not be aware but the Ravens front office can’t help but notice the thousands of unoccupied seats at home games and they’ve addressed the issue of “no shows” in a letter from team president Dick Cass to season ticket holders (entire letter below). The letter underscores the Ravens’ long history of hard work and success on the field and in the community while also acknowledging that there have been times in past years when seats were empty because of the Ravens’ poor play.

But with the Ravens in the hunt for a playoff spot in 2017 he writes: “…this year has been different. The numbers (of empty seats) 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.”

It’s no secret that league-wide pre-game player protests to bring awareness to civil rights issues have turned a number of fans away from the NFL. In my many personal conversations with Ravens fans in addition to those I’ve interacted with on social media, it’s mentioned repeatedly that “taking a knee” has caused some fans to take a hike. They’ve opted to tune out Ravens games on TV and others have decided not to use the game tickets they’ve already purchased, leaving their seats empty. Other fans have said that their disinterest in the Ravens this year is rooted in the team’s boring or predictable style of play, their inconsistent performances or the overall declining quality of most NFL games. But it’s clear — the player protests are the hot topic that has some fans still burning and the Ravens address that issue in further detail in the letter to fans.

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“That became an emotional and divisive issue. We know that hurt some of you. Others saw it differently and welcomed the dialogue that followed. Others bluntly told us to keep statements and protests out of the game. There are some of you who have stayed away from our games.

We have responded to your concerns about the protest by re-doubling the efforts of both the organization and our players to make the Baltimore area a better community. We have also reached out to a number of you who wrote or called about the protest. I personally made a number of phone calls and met with some of you. Some of my Ravens colleagues have also made a number of calls. While we have not been able to reach all of you, we have learned a lot from these interactions.

We want the Ravens to continue to be a strong, unifying force and source of pride in our community. When the Ravens win, we can bring families and the community together. We’ve done that before, and we can do it again. In light of recent events, we are also reminded that winning alone is not always enough to make the Ravens the unifying force we want to be.”

The Ravens are well on their way to a playoff berth and will clinch a postseason spot with victories in their final two games: vs. Indianapolis (Saturday) and Cincinnati (Dec. 31), both at home. The lack of enthusiasm and “Purple Passion” seen and felt in previous years is palpable. The Ravens have taken notice and are trying to win back fans while they try to win games.

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(entire letter below)

From Dick Cass, Team President

I am writing to thank you for your continued support of the Baltimore Ravens. You are an important part of who we are and what we have become.

Created over 22 seasons, our bonds with you are strong and deep. Our Ravens family is built on memories of great games, plays and people. That foundation includes you and Ravens players named Jonathan, Ray, Ed, Sizzle, Joe, Todd, Bart, Goose, Mac, Edwin and many others. Our cement is a pair of Super Bowls, the “Mile High Miracle,” the single-season best defense ever, and playoff wins in New England, Oakland and Pittsburgh, as well as memorable regular season victories at M&T Bank Stadium over Jacksonville, the Steelers and Seattle and the snow game against Minnesota.

All along, our organization and our players have volunteered to make our community better. That work continues almost daily and, certainly, weekly. We are especially proud of our current players’ commitment to make Baltimore a better place to live and work.

We are once again in a serious battle to make the playoffs. If we achieve that goal, it will be the seventh time in the last 10 years. But we know it has been an unusual season. A glut of injuries, especially on offense, had us struggling early to find both consistency and our identity.

We had the poor showing in London, complicated by the kneeling of a dozen players during the National Anthem. That became an emotional and divisive issue. We know that hurt some of you. Others saw it differently and welcomed the dialogue that followed. Others bluntly told us to keep statements and protests out of the game. There are some of you who have stayed away from our 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. 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.

We have responded to your concerns about the protest by re-doubling the efforts of both the organization and our players to make the Baltimore area a better community. We have also reached out to a number of you who wrote or called about the protest. I personally made a number of phone calls and met with some of you. Some of my Ravens colleagues have also made a number of calls. While we have not been able to reach all of you, we have learned a lot from these interactions.

We want the Ravens to continue to be a strong, unifying force and source of pride in our community. When the Ravens win, we can bring families and the community together. We’ve done that before, and we can do it again. In light of recent events, we are also reminded that winning alone is not always enough to make the Ravens the unifying force we want to be.

We don’t take your support for granted, and we know that we must continue to earn your respect and investment in us. We are committed to putting the best possible team on the field and providing an outstanding gameday experience for you. That commitment requires us to continue to make significant investments in our facilities. This summer we will finish our $45 million renovation and expansion of our Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills. By the beginning of the 2019 season, we will complete our ongoing $120 million renovation of M&T Bank Stadium. (By the way, our first set of escalators to the upper bowl will be completed in 2018.)

We hope you and your loved ones are having a wonderful holiday season. Let’s add to the celebration with a Ravens run to the postseason. Thank you for reading this.

Sincerely,

Dick Cass

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