PHOENIX — The Ravens remain very much under construction.
Not only are team officials continuing to work to strengthen the roster, both in free agency and in preparations for the draft, but massive renovation projects are ongoing at the team's Owings Mills training facility and its downtown stadium.
Dick Cass, the team's president since 2004 and Steve Bisciotti's first hire after becoming the owner of the Ravens, has a hand in everything. The 71-year-old sat down with The Sun on Monday at the league meetings from the Arizona Biltmore hotel and discussed several topics, including the challenges the league and the Ravens face in maintaining fan interest, the Ravens' free-agent additions and preparations for the team's first overseas game.
Given that it's the news of the day, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask what's the organization's stance on the Oakland Raiders relocation to Las Vegas?
Whenever there is a re-location, it's incredibly painful for the fans. You have to really feel for the fans of the Raiders in Oakland, and how much this is going to impact them. On the other hand, I know the league worked extremely hard to find a viable solution in Oakland and it just couldn't get done. They were left with no viable solution, and a solution in Las Vegas that is workable. The stadium and finance committees unanimously approved the re-location and I think the league, and we, are excited about the prospects in Las Vegas.
What do you view as the NFL's biggest challenge going forward?
We're trying to streamline the game. Steve talked about this at his end-of-season press conference, the fact that as a fan, he's watching the game and it's almost, at points, unwatchable because of the double -down timeouts. You score a touchdown, take a timeout, you kick off the ball and you have another timeout and commercial. The league is addressing all those issues. One of the things that I think you'll see coming out of this meeting will be new rules, which are designed to streamline the game and cut down on some of the commercial breaks during the game.
Is that the organization's biggest challenge as well?
Our challenge is the challenge every NFL team is facing: trying to convince fans to get off their couches and come to a game. We're addressing that by working on stadium renovations, continually trying to improve the experience for the fans around the stadium before the game, trying to improve our game-day entertainment process. We're constantly working on that.
How much progress is being made in the renovations at the Under Armour Performance Center and M&T Bank Stadium?
They are both large construction sites. At the Under Armour Performance Center, things are moving along very well. Our dining room renovation will be completed, we expect, by April 17, when the players return for volunteer workouts. The north wing is torn down and the foundations are being put in this week. We've made a lot of progress on the parking lots. The stadium, the end-zone boards are down. The steel structure around them is substantially down and we'll start installing new steel in a week or so. The skeletal control room has been built out over the concourse. We're more than doubling the size of our current control room at the stadium in order to accommodate all the new equipment we need to buy to operate the new boards. All of that is in progress. It will be done before the beginning of the season.
Last year you switched to a natural grass playing surface. How did you feel that held up over the course of the season?
We all liked it. The players liked it, our coaches liked it. For the Ravens as an organization and for our fans, it was a good development. I think we're an old-school football team. Baltimore is an old-school football town. I think the fans appreciate us playing on real grass rather than artificial surfaces. I think it was a win-win for everybody. What we've learned, and we did it this year, is we're going to have to resod during the middle of the season. We resodded twice during the middle of the last season and we'll probably have to do that twice every season. That's OK.
What preparations have you made for the team's London game against the Jaguars on Sept. 24?
Last week, we had about 12 people from the Ravens go over to London. We've finalized a hotel, a practice facility over there. We've planned out how we're going to schedule the trip. On the marketing side and for our fans, we've identified a pub in downtown London that we're going to rent for most of the week. We've got some entertainment planned down there. We're going to have activities on Regent Street the Saturday before the game. We're expecting a lot of fans there. We've been getting a lot of phone calls. We were given a certain ticket allotment by the league and those tickets are all gone. Our sponsor, PrimeSport, has organized trips and they're sold out. We've been hearing from the league that the demand from Ravens' fans to come to London is among the highest that they've seen for any team.
What kind of feedback from fans have you gotten about your recent ticket price increase and is it too early to tell whether it's had any effect of ticket renewals?
I think renewals are on track. They're not different, really, than they've been in prior years. But it is too soon to tell if there will be any significant impact on renewals. I don't think there will be. We've not had that many complaints. Obviously when we first announced it, we heard from fans. But we also heard from fans who said they understand. I think the response was intelligent in the sense that they understood why we're doing it.
You guys have had a lot of success, but the last three or four years has been a bit of a struggle. Have you noticed any changes in the sense of urgency at the facility?
We are determined to get back to the playoffs this year and there is a keen awareness of the fact that we've not made the playoffs the last two years. There's extreme disappointment on our part that we haven't done that. But at the same time, we're always intense. What we're going through now is not different than what you would've seen in other years.
Do you think you still have moves to make before the draft?
It's conceivable that we'll do something, but it's more likely to me that it will be something after the draft. We'd like to preserve the opportunity to win a compensatory draft pick. We really have to wait until [May 9] before we will sign a player, most likely. But you never say never. If an opportunity comes along, we might take it.
Do you feel good about where the team is at cap-wise?
I feel good about where we are. I think we've made some good investments in our future. We have some cap room left, but we have to be careful with it. If we don't use it, we can roll it over until next year. I suspect we will use it, but I suspect it will be after the draft.