The Baltimore Ravens are no longer in contention for the AFC North title, having fallen too far behind the Steelers, but they are currently tied with the Bills and the Titans for a wild card slot and they’ve been showing a lot of potential. They play the Colts today in a home game that could prove to be a make or break match in terms of their chances at a post-season appearance. With that much on the line, you’d expect the stadium to be buzzing, but in addition to the Colts, Baltimore is facing another battle. They’re trying to fill up the seats at M&T Bank Stadium and avoid yet another embarrassing display of sparsely populated stands.

The Ravens sold out every single home game since arriving in Baltimore in 1996. But by last month they were scrambling to (re)sell, or in some cases, give away as many of the returned tickets as possible. You can’t blame it on poor performance by the team, so this week the Ravens’ president, Dick Cass, came out and said what everyone had already known: his players’ National Anthem protest stunt in London earlier this season simply drove too many people away. (Baltimore Sun)

In a letter sent to season-ticket holders this week, Ravens president Dick Cass acknowledged that “the onetime protest” by players before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London has led to an increased number of empty seats and no-shows at the team’s home games.

During the playing of the national anthem before that game, a 44-7 loss on Sept. 24, at least a dozen Ravens knelt in protest. The next week at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens prayed as a team before the national anthem.

“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,” Cass wrote. “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.

You can read the full letter that Cass sent at the link above. He went on to cite a “significant number of no-shows” and admitted that for many of the fans, the protest in London was the reason.

The empty seats aren’t enough to impact their bottom line very much in terms of profits, but their cash flow isn’t really the issue here. Never underestimate the power of the “12th Man” in NFL football. A packed stadium full of wildly enthusiastic and frequently, strategically loud fans can make the difference in some games. (Just ask the Seahawks about that. Their attendance has fallen as well and the once daunting home-field advantage they enjoyed has really faded this year. They’re currently just 4-3 for home games, the exact same record they managed on the road.) Just as Baltimore is scrambling for every edge they can get in a wild card fight, their fan support is soft at best.

Will the admission from Cass and his commitment to “do better” in the future make a difference? Perhaps, but probably not right away. If all of this protest nonsense can be put behind the league and kept to venues outside the stadium by next season, people will probably come back. But it’s also yet another example of the dangers of dragging politics into areas where people simply don’t want to see it. Just yesterday we were talking about the hit that Papa John’s Pizza took, leading to the resignation of their founder and CEO. They lost a lot of sales this year after he came out in opposition to the anthem protests.

You can see how it doesn’t really matter which side of the issue you come down on. Obviously, people aren’t looking for a side order of political ideology with their large, meat lovers’ pie. Those who disagreed with the display began abandoning the brand, just as they’ve done with the Ravens. And those who agree were not willing to suddenly begin making up the difference. Those who opposed the protests weren’t buying more pizzas and those supporting the protests weren’t buying up the tickets to go to Ravens games.

Too little, too late, at least as far as this season goes. Perhaps the lesson can be taken forward next year and we can get back to enjoying the game.