As the Orioles and Nationals have wrestled over contentious TV contracts and fleeting regional supremacy for the past decade, the NFL franchises at opposite ends of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway have maintained a largely peaceful coexistence.

The Ravens and Commanders have met in the regular season just three times since 2012. They don’t have a Wikipedia page devoted to a rivalry. When the teams are compared, it’s usually in service of a larger point: how two nearby franchises could be so far apart in organizational stability and on-field expectations.

But, with NFL team owners on Thursday approving Josh Harris’ purchase of the woebegone Commanders from Daniel Snyder for a record-setting $6.05 billion, the Ravens are set to begin a more competitive, or at least more intriguing, chapter with their league neighbors.

Under Snyder, Washington’s fan base and on-field fortunes had shrunk for decades as the Ravens’ grew. While Harris assumes control of a franchise in turmoil, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti presides over one of the most respected brands in the sport. Michael Rapkoch, who as CEO of Texas-based Sports Value Consulting oversees franchise valuations, said in an interview that if the Ravens were put up for sale, “they’d fetch a pretty penny.” (Bisciotti, 63, said last year that he’s “very happy” as owner and joked that “you might be stuck with me for a long time if we get to keep upgrading” M&T Bank Stadium, and they will do that thanks to $600 million from the state.)

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So what might Washington’s sale signal to Baltimore and the rest of the NFL? Here are three takeaways from interviews with experts.

Washington can regain lost ground

In the 24 years since Snyder purchased the franchise, the Ravens have won as many Super Bowl titles as Washington has won playoff games (two). They’ve had more double-digit-win seasons (13) than Washington has had full-time head coaches (eight). They’ve played with two “Madden NFL” cover athletes while Washington has played with three team names.

That success has allowed for incursions. Marty Conway worked as the Orioles’ vice president of marketing in the early 1990s, well before the Nationals arrived in Washington. He remembers the Orioles staking out their territory as “aggressively as we could, within reason,” establishing team shops in Washington and York, Pennsylvania.

“And I think that’s what the Ravens have done,” said Conway, who now works for M&T Bank and as a sports industry management professor at Georgetown.

He pointed to the Ravens’ outreach in what he calls the franchise’s “outer ring,” beyond the Baltimore metropolitan area. In Montgomery and Frederick counties, areas that once might have been decidedly pro-Washington, the Ravens have “tested” their brand’s appeal, Conway said. Team officials have cultivated support on the state’s Eastern Shore, too, with events such as their summer “Beach Bash” in Ocean City.

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“They’ve run the playbook well,” Conway said.

A turnaround under Harris could deny the Ravens deeper inroads. Not every disaffected Commanders fan added purple camouflage to their Sunday wardrobe. Many simply tuned out altogether. “They just became dormant,” Conway said. “They’re like Bermuda grass.” He predicted a “snap back” among fans and sponsors as the franchise stabilized.

“I suspect that the first thing that the ownership of the Commanders needs to do is to recognize that they’ve got to get out not only into their core of D.C. but into Northern Virginia, into the Maryland counties that surround the Beltway and reestablish themselves as a viable option for your spending habits, whether it’s tickets or sponsorships or media advertisements or whatever it is,” he said.

Value doesn’t have to come from success

When Harris’ group finalized its bid for Washington this year, the franchise didn’t have a franchise quarterback. Its long-term stadium plans were, and remain, unclear. Its once-venerable wait list for season tickets had been hollowed out. Still, the offer was an NFL record. Where others might’ve seen a trash heap, Harris’ group saw treasure.

“Whether it’s now or in the medium future, it’s a reaffirmation that this is the right place to put your money, and your return is going to be sort of like modern art, right?” Conway said. “It’s a valuation that you can’t describe. It’s only in the eyes of the beholder and the buyer.”

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Washington’s sale was a jarring reminder of the sport’s financial appeal. In the NFL, value is not always wedded to success. Snyder bought the club in 1999 for $800 million. Fifteen losing seasons later, it’s still one of the league’s most prized teams.

“There’s just not one thing” driving a franchise’s valuation, Rapkoch said. It’s a complex calculus. The team’s brand is a factor. So is its stadium arrangement. Local revenue streams and fan engagement are considered.

Even an asset as visible as a superstar quarterback can’t be overvalued, Rapkoch said. Most owners will control their team long enough that, if they’re lucky, they’ll cycle through only a few starters at the position.

“You buy an NFL team for the long term,” Rapkoch said. “You’re just going through multiple quarterbacks during that time frame. And you’re going to put together and surround yourself with people who know how to pick and develop and train and work these various individuals, right, whether it’s offense or defense or special teams. So it’s not just one player. It’s 53.”

Even as the league’s revenue skyrockets, teams have remained mindful of their own bottom lines. Conway said the NFL circulates information among its franchises with details on sponsorship valuations, for example. Opportunities for cash infusions abound. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals last year agreed to lucrative naming-rights deals for their stadiums that could reportedly be worth over $10 million annually.

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In Baltimore, the Ravens’ push for new revenue streams has been lower profile but persistent. Along with extending its naming-rights deal for M&T Bank Stadium, the franchise has announced plans to build more suites, partnered with a sports book and found sponsors for team-produced podcasts and film breakdowns. Conway said the Ravens’ embrace of corporate partnerships under new team President Sashi Brown was “gentle at first,” but that it’s become more visible in recent months.

“I think it kind of coincides with the move that the NFL has been making broadly, which is: Franchise values are going up, and the assets that make up the franchise are going up as well,” Conway said.

For NFL owners, it’s a seller’s market

Whenever Bisciotti decides to sell the team will probably be a good time to sell the team. Really, there are no bad times to sell membership into one of the world’s most lucrative, exclusive fraternities.

In 2021, Forbes valued Washington’s franchise at $4.2 billion. It went for $1.85 billion more. That same year, Forbes valued the Denver Broncos at $3.8 billion. Last summer, they went for $850 million more.

“We’ve been saying this for years, and now it’s finally catching on, which is: This is part of your overall portfolio,” Rapkoch said. “Stocks, bonds, real estate, oil and gas, if you want, and then sports. Because there’s very little correlation to the overall market, right? So 2022 was a down year in the stock market, but an up year in sports, right? So that’s what people are looking at, saying, ‘Listen, where do we want to park? We have X amount of money. Where do we want to park that to get full diversification and know, in 20 years, the Baltimore Ravens are going to be there?’ …

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“Pick a company. Look around Baltimore. Say, ‘Is that company going to be here in 20 years? Do I want to invest in that company?’ The Dallas Cowboys are going to be here for the next 50 years, guaranteed. And you can’t say that [about other investments]. So, as an investor, that gives you a level of confidence. You know it’s not going to be an AOL or a Netscape.”

Financially, the Ravens seem secure. In May, they signed quarterback Lamar Jackson to an NFL-record five-year, $260 million contract extension, including $185 million guaranteed, a figure that some owners might have balked at. Their lease at M&T Bank Stadium runs through 2037, and upgrades will be paid for with $450 million in bonds. The bonds, requested by the Maryland Stadium Authority, will be paid back later with lottery funds.

Under the NFL’s new media rights agreements through the 2033 season, reportedly worth about $110 billion overall, the Ravens can also shore up their rainy-day fund — if they ever even need to tap into it. “Most of the teams that have sold,” Rapkoch said, “have sold at prices that reflect, ‘Wow, you did a really bad job, but we’re going to pay you a lot of money.’”

The Ravens have known only two majority owners in their 27-year history. Art Modell paid $4 million in 1961 to purchase the Cleveland Browns, whom he later moved to Baltimore. In 1999, Bisciotti paid $275 million for 49% of the franchise. The franchise’s next owner will have to pay more. Billions more.

“I think the best thing that you can say is, the line is up and to the right,” Conway said, alluding to the trend line on a stock chart. “And that’s clearly what’s happening with NFL franchises. Right now, if you look at what’s happening in sports, there’s been what I call a multiple expansion, right? The franchise values have gone up similar to the way that the top seven or eight tech stocks go, which is, their business isn’t that much better, but the value of their business is so much better.

“And so you’d have to look at that. That would have to get everybody’s attention around the country, to say, ‘This is just a reaffirmation of what we’ve known, which is, it’s the ultimate game of real estate.’ They’re not making any more franchises, as far as we know.”

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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