Passion from the Baltimore Ravens fanbase has steadily declined since Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and the their teammates walked off the Superdome field in early 2013 with the Lombardi trophy in tow.
The Ravens have labored through five seasons since the championship, a perfect model of mediocrity. Tired of excuses for continuity, an uninspiring brand of football and a roster lacking in playmakers, many former diehard fans have turned away.
The 2017 season represented a tipping point. Lack of attendance at M&T Bank stadium and excitement in the community became a dire concern. A December letter from team president Dick Cass imploring Ravens supporters to use the tickets they already paid for, with the playoffs in clear sight, was frankly an embarrassment to the franchise.
Sure, the team had several external factors working against them. Some percentage of fans decided to protest the NFL in response to the player’s protest during the national anthem. Others have been turned off by the all of the injuries, along with the knowledge of what concussions do to the brain. Conversely, many football pursists do not agree with the softening of the game. The list goes on to include cold weather, unappealing matchups, over saturation, poor officiating, et cetera.
Still, the way the Ravens have chosen to run their organization is the main reason for fan disengagement. Through their coaching decisions and roster management, Baltimore has become a dull team. The mediocre record plays a part, but the prevailing apathy is mostly because of a lack of hope that the team will make bold changes to improve.
Even during Brian Billick’s rough seasons, the Ravens were a great source civic pride for the citizens of Baltimore. The fans at least had individual greatness to cheer on - Jamal Lewis punishing would be tacklers, Todd Heap sacrificing his body in order to move the chains, Reed’s electrifying interception returns, Haloti Ngata destroying plays in the backfield, and so on. Since 2013, the Ravens have been nearly devoid of elite players performing at their peak.
The 2018 offseason represents a crossroads for the franchise. They can continue down the same path, emphasizing loyalty and character over aggression and athleticism. Or they can decide the time has come to make a splash.
A major shakeup in the front office or coaching staff would send a clear signal that ownership is not satisfied with the status quo. Bundling their precious salary cap space to acquire a marketable star instead of filling out the depth chart with several aging stopgaps would also be a step in the right direction. Even a full commitment to a multiyear rebuild would give hope for a brighter future.
Owner Steve Bisciotti has an important choice to make - continue with more of the same or chart a new course for the franchise. The fanbase is watching intently.