The Ravens announced today that they will remain at their facility in Owings Mills for summer training camp, thus ending a long-standing relationship with McDaniel College and making it impossible for most fans to watch them prepare for the season.
"We know we're disappointing McDaniel College, we're disappointing the town of Westminster and we're disappointing all of our fans who came out to those camps. We know that," said Ravens president Dick Cass. "If we had been looking at this strictly from a football standpoint, it's a very easy decision. But the whole situation with our fans made it a very difficult decision. In the end, I think our fans want us to be ready for the season. We know with a new [collective bargaining agreement] and the way training camp has changed over the years, we can be more prepared having training camp here. That's what we're hoping our fans understand."
McDaniel's Westminster campus had been the home of Ravens training camp for the first 15 years of the franchise's history, along with being the site of Baltimore Colts training camp from 1953 through 1971. That tradition ended this past summer when the extended NFL lockout prompted them to stay at their own 200,000-square foot training facility in Owings Mills.
At the time, Ravens officials voiced their plans to return to Westminster for 2012 training camp. That, however, won't happen as team officials decided that the accommodations in their $31 million in-season facility were much more conducive to preparing for the long grind of the season.
The obvious downside of the decision is the annual summer pilgrimage of thousands of Baltimore football fans to Westminster -- one that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti used to take as a kid with his family to meet Johnny Unitas and all the other Baltimore Colts greats -- will cease effective this summer.
"From a football and team point of view, it's an easy decision. Personally, this is difficult," Bisciotti said in a statement released by the team. "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."
More than 100,000 fans annually descended to Westminster to watch training camp, providing tremendous publicity for the college and an economic boon for the city and its businesses. When training camp was moved to Owings Mills this past summer, Westminster officials estimated that its loss would have more than a $2 million economic impact on the city and local merchants.
"We're disappointed, but at the same time, we certainly understand the decision. I think especially given the changes in the collective bargaining agreement and the fact that they're limited to one practice a day, if I put myself in their shoes, it gets to the point where how much logistics and effort do you put into moving your organization when you already have a facility designed for everything you do?," said McDaniel's vice president of administration and finance Ethan Seidel, whose responsibilities included negotiating with the Ravens on a training camp agreement.
"I think as far as the direct economics go and I've said this for years, there is more of a direct economic impact on the Westminster business community than there was with the college," Seidel added. "Our benefit in hosting the Ravens, what we liked the most about it, was just the number of people that it brought to visit our campus and the publicity it brought. It's not a cash flow issue for the college, but for a lot of local business, [losing the Ravens] makes a big impact."
The impact will also be felt by the Ravens' fans. The team's agreement with Baltimore County only allows for a limited number of fans to watch practice in Owings Mills because the complex doesn't have enough available parking spots and the surrounding roads couldn't handle the volume of traffic that training camp generates.
Cass said that in response to leaving Westminster, the team will conduct three open practices for fans, including at least one at M&T Bank Stadium. It will also invite different community or military groups to watch training camp in Owings Mills. The Ravens are also hoping to hold a clinic with their players and coaches at McDaniel College, though those plans haven't been finalized yet.
"The numbers have to be pretty limited," Cass said of potentially bringing in fans to the Owings Mills facility. "When we have the players, the staff and the media here, there's no room to park. We'll have to come up with a system where people park somewhere and we bus them in, but we're talking about 100 people, not a couple thousand."
Cass maintained that the move wasn't a financial decision, pointing out that because of the organization's training camp sponsors and partners, the team did not lose money going to Westminster. It was purely a football one for a multitude of reasons, none bigger than the fact that the team's complex in Owings Mills has better fields, a state-of-the-art weight room and conditioning area, and better medical facilities than what's available in Westminster. In past training camps, the Ravens had to shuttle equipment and supplies back and forth, a process that took about four days.
The Owings Mills complex also includes an indoor facility that can hold a legitimate practice in the case of inclement weather outside. On days of thunder storms during training camp in Westminster, the team either had to go inside a gymnasium or bus back to Owings Mills. Losing a practice to weather now looms even larger with the current CBA prohibiting teams from practicing more than once a day during camp.
"In 1996, Westminster was the best place for us to have training camp [but] how teams conduct training camp today is vastly different," said Ravens general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome. "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, 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 and Dick that we hold camp here."
The Ravens also pointed out that the organization had outgrown the Best Western hotel, which is adjacent to the college and housed the team and its players and coaches during the four-week training camp. The hotel no longer had enough rooms or meeting space, forcing the Ravens to bring in trailers for their staff. It also lacked the necessary technology to suit the Ravens' needs in terms of watching video and film.
"It was a very difficult decision. We recognized that we are stopping a tradition that we've had in place for 16 years now," said Cass, who didn't completely rule out returning to Westminster for training camp in the future. "We had a great relationship with McDaniel College and McDaniel College provided us with access to the fans in a way that was almost unique to the NFL -- the intimacy of the location, the close interaction between the fans and the players. From a fan standpoint, it was just an ideal situation, but we knew when he had the summer camp here, we would realize how wonderful the facilities here were and how conducive that they would be to getting ready for the season."