LAUREL, Md. — Old Bay, crab cakes, and lacrosse are just a few things Marylanders take pride in. However, when it comes to the National Football League, you will find a clear divide as to where Maryland residents pledge their allegiance.
Maryland is one of just a few states in America that has two NFL stadiums on its soil. The Baltimore Ravens play in M&T Bank Stadium near the Inner Harbor. While the Washington Football Team take on their opponents at FedEx Field in Landover.
The teams’ close proximity to one another has for years begged the question: what is the geographic dividing line between the two fan bases?
The city of Laurel has long recognized itself as a “border town” when it comes to local football fandom.
Laurel High School head football coach Michael Mayo says the dividing line runs straight through the Prince George’s County community. It is equidistant to both the heart of the District of Columbia and the Downtown Baltimore.
“I kind of say [Route] 198 is the is the mark,” he said. “Once you cross 198, then it starts to be Washington. Once you go north of 198, it’s the Ravens. So that's about the midway point.”
Mayo said he recently conducted a quick poll of students at his school. He said they seemed to be divided.
“It actually came out evenly split until I did the football players,” he said. “Most of the players were for the Ravens and most of the students were for Washington. And, then, it ended up overall, Washington came out ahead of the Ravens.”
Superfans have opinions on the matter, too.
Rick Noppenberger runs the "Bmore Ravens fan page” group on Facebook. It has more than 35,000 followers.
“I think it's based on how you're raised and what your access to the team is,” he said.
After the Colts left Baltimore in 1984, locals continued to fight to have an NFL team of their own.
Noppenberger said when the Ravens landed in Baltimore in 1996, they gave the region something to embrace for years to come.
“When the Ravens travel to other cities and you hear the loud ‘O’ in the national anthem, it's a moment of pride for Baltimoreans,” he said.
Many factors affect where the location of the dividing line is between the fan bases, according to Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a sports management professor at George Washington University.
One big factor: Television exposure.
For example, if you live in the designated Baltimore media market, which includes Howard, Carroll, and Anne Arundel counties, you will be exposed to the Ravens more because they are always guaranteed to be on television in the region.
Delpy Neirotti said Nielsen data shows half of Washington Football fans say they only watch their team when it plays, while 16% of Ravens fans, about 200,000 people, do the same.
"From my perspective, the Ravens could have a possibility of at least encouraging more of the Washington fans to watch the Ravens,” she said.
The Washington Football Team says, in Maryland, it only holds the exclusive marketing rights to Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. So, Washington Football Team fans in Charles and Frederick counties may see more Ravens marketing despite being in the Washington media market.
Delpy Neirotti said gambling pushes a lot of people to watch football on television too. Consequently, those viewers may not stay loyal to the same team.
She added fantasy football continues to blur the dividing line between the Washington Football Team and Ravens as well because more people have become interested in players’ individual performances than the team’s overall results.
“Fantasy football is a threat to team fandom and team rivalries because people are choosing their own teams that they've created through the fantasy leagues,” she said.
Washington Football Team superfan ‘Tailgate Ted” Abela agrees.
“What's more important to fans right now, not me, but some of them out there, is those fantasy football stats, those big plays,” he said.
Tailgate Ted helped create the popular “HailBBQ” tailgate at FedEx Field more than 20 years ago.
He said he is not so sure there is a definitive border between the two teams in Maryland anymore.
Abela said Washington’s struggles on the gridiron are partly to blame.
“It's been shrinking for a while,” he said. “I’m being realistic. I am a diehard fan. But I'm also a knowledgeable person. This team has not been relevant for quite some time. We've had a couple of stints here and there where we've won, but it hasn't been consistent winning.”
But, with of all the franchise’s recent changes, Abela says he is hopeful that will soon change.
“This is going to be a season of ups and downs,” he said. “There's going be more downs than ups, but with Ron Rivera here, the new management here, Jason Wright here, we are trending in the right direction for the first time in a long time.”