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Thom Loverro: Ravens make inroads in Redskins territory

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,Ravens,Thom Loverro

NEW ORLEANS

Chris Sterbenz lives in Vienna, not far from Redskins Park. He moved here from Tampa, Fla., in 1983 and hoped to get tickets to see the Redskins and root for his new hometown team.

"I always loved going to NFL games in person," he said.

But this was the start of the Joe Gibbs Super Bowl era and the days at RFK Stadium when the waiting list for Redskins tickets was real and legendarily lengthy.

At the same time, with no baseball in Washington, Sterbenz became an Orioles fan. So when the Browns moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996, Sterbenz called to see whether he could get on the Ravens' season ticket waiting list.

There was no waiting list, so Sterbenz became a Ravens fan living in Redskins territory. And he's not alone.

The presence of the Ravens franchise in suburban Washington appears to be growing. The team reported that regular-season ratings in this market were the highest since the team moved to Baltimore.

This is not good news for the Redskins, who now are faced with battling the Baltimore franchise in the marketing and merchandising wars.

Two years ago, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, for all intents and purposes, declared this a war when he told reporters they wanted to take control of the whole area.

"I love the Baltimore Ravens fans," Harbaugh said. "We're reaching out and trying to get more. We're trying to take control of this whole area. We'll take over Washington, D.C., while we are at it and head up into Pennsylvania and grab all those fans and over to West Virginia and Virginia. Come on and be a Baltimore Raven fan because this is an exciting organization and exciting football team."

This wasn't just some coach popping off. This was a franchise plan.

"What we're really trying to do is fight for young fans and fight for new people moving into the [Baltimore-Washington] area," Ravens president Dick Cass told the Washington Post. "The Redskins have been here forever; right now their brand is stronger than our brand. They have a larger fan base than we do. We're just fighting to grow our fan base."

A number of factors have helped the Ravens make inroads in Redskins territory. This is their second Super Bowl, and they have made nine trips to the playoffs since 2000. At the same time, the Redskins have fluctuated between dismal and occasionally rising to mediocre.

Then there are the stadiums themselves. Everything that M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore is -- fan friendly, easy access -- FedEx Field is not.

"I run into D.C.-area Ravens fans all the time," Sterbenz said. "Many of them, if not most, are not native Washingtonians but have seen the tremendous success that the Ravens franchise has had since 2000 and have gotten on the bandwagon."

Next stop for Sterbenz and the bandwagon -- New Orleans and the Super Bowl.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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