(Owings Mills, MD) — Once a year for two to three weeks, Baltimore Ravens’ fans get the chance of a lifetime to witness their children’s excitement of meeting, greeting and taking pictures with their favorite football players. A tradition, which started 15 years ago in Westminster, Md., the Ravens held their public training camp for the first few weeks in August – free of charge – at McDaniel College. Due to the nature of business, the Ravens made a smart decision, for their sake at the cost of the working-class families with children, of ending the traditional public viewing of their training camp at McDaniel College, announced by the organization Friday.
“It’s not right, not right at all,” said a factory worker who has three boys (11, 9 and 7) that looks forward to meeting the players at training camp each year as ticket prices are too expensive to provide for his family. “It’s not cool, I plan vacation time around the Ravens training camp each year and my boys love it. Now, what do I tell them? I will be fine, but training camp was for the kids, and now that’s taken away.”
The Ravens held their 2011 training camp in Owings Mills at their facility (better known as “the Castle”), due to the NFL lockout and the urgency to prepare for the season.
The possibility of ending training camp in Westminster, Md. has been discussed within the organization for weeks. The Ravens’ decision was not an easy one.
“We’ve had long, serious discussions about this decision, and, when all is said and done, we believe we can better prepare for the season by holding training camp here as opposed to McDaniel College or any other facility away from here,” stated Ravens team president Dick Cass via press release. “We wanted to let the officials at McDaniel and at the hotel (Best Western) know as soon as we made the decision.”
“We owe much thanks to the leadership at McDaniel for their patience as we came to this decision and for all the outstanding help they have given the Ravens through the years,” he continued. “They have been a great partner, often going out of their way to make sure we could prepare our team at a high, high level.”
Before the institution changed their name to McDaniel College, the school was known as Western Maryland College. The school hosted the (then) Baltimore Colts’ training camp from 1953 to 1971. From there, the Colts trained at the Colorado School of Mines in 1972, Towson State University in 1973, McDonogh School in 1974 and then at Goucher College from 1975 to 1983.
“In 1996, Westminster was the best place for us to have training camp,” stated Ravens general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome. “How teams conduct training camp today is vastly different. Our football needs and requirements are different. The absence of two-a-days, how much space we need for the players and the meetings, the limited number of practices allowed by the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement), the importance of having an indoor field when the summer storms come – all of that and more football-influenced factors, had me recommend to Steve (Bisciotti) and Dick that we hold camp here.”
The speed of business forces hellish decisions to be made. In this case, for the Ravens, which involves their fans, this decision troubled owner Steve Bisciotti (a self-made billionaire who loves Baltimore sports) as he had mixed feelings about the move of training camp from Westminster to Owings Mills.
“From a football and team point of view, it’s an easy decision,” stated Bisciotti. “Personally, this is difficult. Some of my best memories as a kid are my family’s visits to the Colts’ training camp in Westminster. Part of my devotion to the game and the players who made it great and are heroes to many of us, started on those visits.”
“We completely understand that this takes away an important part of our connection with our fans. I regret that,” he added. “Hopefully, we can find other ways to continue this outreach. We’ll have more to say on this as we develop these programs.”
All is not lost as the Ravens’ organization is in discussion of having some community interactions with their fans.
“We’ve discussed a variety of possible community interactions,” stated Cass. “We are committed to having, at the minimum, three practices away from Owings Mills that would be open to the public with at least one of those at M&T Bank Stadium. We will have smaller groups of fans at practices here (at Owings Mills) and will have other community activities that include access to players and coaches. We want to do something in Westminster, and we are discussing some ideas. These will all have to fit into the first priority: getting the team ready for the regular season.”
Normally, when there is a major change in an organization, money is always at the root of a transition. Cass assured that is not the case.
“This is not a financial decision,” stated Cass. “Because of our training camp sponsors and partners, we did not lose money going to Westminster.”
A small group of Ravens fans coming to Owings Mills, M&T Bank Stadium and where ever the other location may be, could cause more problems. Consequently, only a select few will have a better heads up about attending practices (especially at the Castle) and the visible disappointment from other kids watching other children get close to the Ravens players, as they will ask, ‘why them and not me.’
The closeness of thousands of Ravens’ fans in Westminster, Md. for training camp can never be duplicated with a few here and a few there.
It would probably be better if the Ravens’ organization does not have any public practices, as many fans may feel insulted knowing many kids will not be able to take advantage greeting their favorite players.
Ravens’ fans will eventually get over this transition and the bond they have with the team, as followers, will continue to grow.
“We’ll miss having all those fans at practice,” stated Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “It was fun having them so close and, at times, pushing the team to higher levels with the way they cheered and encouraged us.”
Through press release, Cass and Newsome pointed out a number of issues that provoked the Ravens to make this decision:
- Facilities at the team’s Owings Mills facility are conducive to the best practices, especially in bad weather when the team can quickly move inside without losing the limited practice time. The team’s state-of-the-art weight room, conditioning machines and medical/training areas are significantly better.
- Ravens have outgrown the Best Western Hotel. “There aren’t enough rooms for our players, coaches and staff. Nor are there rooms for the individual position meetings that are an everyday part of football preparation,” Cass noted. (Each year, the Ravens have added trailers to hold position meetings and use as office space for the staff.)
- Technology requirements, including computer and video, have changed dramatically in recent years. Capacity at the hotel is not compatible with team needs.
- The new CBA limits teams to one practice per day, and the efficiency provided in Owings Mills with meeting space, fields and video and IT operations allows the team to maximize the preparation for the season.