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Bartender Abby Hopper, left, of Baltimore, collects a Ray Rice Baltimore Ravens football jersey from Sam DeMarco, second from left, of Baltimore, who dined with Allie Hurtt, third from left, of Baltimore, and Darya Safai, right, of Baltimore at Hersh's Pizza and Drinks, a Baltimore restaurant that offered a free personal pizza in exchange for Rice jerseys Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

Rice termination sent a strong message, but restoring good will takes time

Fan base can spot PR; keep efforts genuine

A lot of women love the Baltimore Ravens. It was even the first NFL team to have a dedicated fan club just for women, Purple.

But even if it didn’t have that female following, the team had to release Ray Rice, said John Maroon, founder of Maroon PR, who has an extensive background in sports public relations.

“We all get it. We were all offended deeply by what happened,” he said. “Had the Ravens not done some of the things they’ve done in recent weeks to rectify the situation there would have been a lot more fallout not only from the women fan base but from the fan base at large.”

Those actions include terminating Rice’s contract, he said, but also the Raven’s decision last month to enter into a three-year partnership with House of Ruth, a leading center for helping victims of domestic violence. It included a $600,000 donation to the organization, training for the players and other staff and promotional work for the organization’s centers.

“The thing that made that substantive was that it wasn’t just them writing a check to House of Ruth,” said Maroon, whose firm represents the victims’ advocacy group. “They proactively reached out to House of Ruth and said we need to do something to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

But it may take a while for that effort to make a real impact, said Thomas Rhoads, a sports economics professor at Towson University.

“The question you have to ask is: Will any kind of outreach from the NFL or the Ravens… will people receive it as genuine in nature?” he said. “I would say no, it’s not genuine. They’re just doing it to keep the money flowing in.”

That money comes not only from the women fans, but from their families.

“A lot of the women, if they’ve got boyfriends or husbands that are Ravens fans, it was kind of a family endeavor,” he said. “If the women aren’t happy with the Ravens, that might influence some of the men.”

Still, he doesn’t expect ticket sales to diminish, or the Ravens’ business to suffer much. Rice’s termination sent a strong message, he said.

Maroon said the team has to be careful about its next steps. The most important thing is to be forthright and consistent, he said.

“You don’t want anything to look like it is contrived,” he said. “The fan base today is a smart fan base and they’re going to see right through that.”

Like Rhoads, Maroon said it will take a long time for the Ravens organization to prove its efforts are genuine. It should continue to communicate with the women’s fan base about the situation and how seriously it is being taken, he said.

“It’s not just going to go away,” he said. “We haven’t invented the time machine yet, so we can’t go back and fix our blunders. What we can do is make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

About Lizzy McLellan

Lizzy McLellan covers finance, technology, start-ups and small business for The Daily Record.