OWINGS MILLS – Barring a sudden, unanticipated resolution of the NFL labor dispute, the Baltimore Ravens’ annual tradition of conducting training camp in Carroll County is about to be interrupted.
Although emphasizing that no final decisions have been made, team and McDaniel College officials acknowledged that it has now become more and more unlikely that camp will be held in Westminster for the 16th consecutive year.
The NFL lockout is now in its third month and shows no signs of ending as NFL owners and players continue a nasty litigation battle with the latest hearing set for this week in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
“We’re in a holding pattern until something gets resolved,” Ravens vice president of operations Bob Eller told Ravens24x7.com. “Hopefully, we’ll know something sooner than later. The longer the labor situation remains unsettled, the more difficult it will be to hold training camp in Westminster this year. Right now, they’re continuing to hold the facilities for us at the college.
“We’re just kind of biding our time to see if some kind of settlement or agreement is reached. We don’t have a drop-dead date where we have to make a decision for where it will stand this year. We’ll have to make that decision relatively soon and figure out what’s the realistic scenario and if we should commence work on the fields.”
The Ravens have held their camps in Westminster at McDaniel, a private, liberal arts school that once hosted the Baltimore Colts and the likes of Johnny Unitas, since their inaugural season in 1996.
Last summer, the Ravens set a training camp attendance record with an estimated total of 112,051. That broke their previous record of 111,492 that was established in 2001 following their lone Super Bowl championship.
“Obviously the longer the lockout goes on, the more difficult it will be for the Ravens to have camp here this summer,” said Ethan A. Seidel, McDaniel College vice president of administration and finance. “How close can you get to camp before it’s logistically not possible to pull it off? In my mind, we only have a few weeks left before we’re at that point. I don’t know that the owners and the players are compelled to come to terms yet and negotiations are such a strange thing.
“If there are a few hard-liners on either side, it can stop a deal from happening. We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Each side is waiting to see who has the bigger advantage. The longer it goes on, the logic says the less likely we’ll be able to have our act together for the summer.”
If the lockout persists much longer, the Ravens would have to shift camp to their $35 million training complex in Owings Mills.
That would preclude the team from having their practices open to the general public. However, they have crafted an alternative plan to have practices open to the fans at M&T Bank Stadium in downtown Baltimore.
“I think we’re planning on doing more at the stadium any way," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said during the owners meetings this spring in New Orleans. "That was so good last year. We’ll probably do it two or three times this year even if we’re at McDaniel. I think we’re going to come down there more. You hit the segment of your fans downtown that can just walk over or catch the bus.”
One major sticking point in terms of logistics is the lodging arrangements for the players, coaches and staff.
The Ravens bunk in each year at the Best Western Westminster Catering & Conference Center, which is located within walking distance of the practice fields at McDaniel.
The hotel is continuing to hold all of their rooms from July 25 to Aug. 19, blocking them out from booking any outside reservations. Hotel officials said they don’t expect the Ravens to have camp in Westminster this year and can only afford to wait a few more weeks before they’ll need to know something definitive.
The Ravens represent a significant amount of business for the hotel each year.
“As far as the hotel goes, really every day that passes they lose some business they could have booked that they’re not able to,” Seidel said. “They’re kind of exposed. In their case, you can’t make up all that business. The Ravens do stay at the hotel. They’re only using our locker rooms, training room and fields.
“For us, the relevance of a drop-dead date probably affects us the least. They could tell us a week before camp and we could get ready. I think it’s a lot harder on the Ravens because there’s a lot of logistics involved in terms of moving stuff in order to hold camp. It’s a lot of details.”
Although the Ravens could conceivably have players commute to Westminster from Owings Mills, it would be inconvenient.
It would also defeat the purpose of having camp at a remote site.
“There would be a lot of logistical problems,” Seidel said. “Perhaps the younger players don’t all have transportation. It’s one thing to run a shuttle from the hotel to the college. It’s a lot bigger deal to start running a shuttle from Owings Mills to Westminster.”
The Ravens’ latest contract with McDaniel expired last year, but talks have continued to take place with university officials about future camps.
That sort of contract is much less complicated to hammer out, though, than the collective bargaining agreement the NFL owners have opted out of.
Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti and Harbaugh have both said they intend to continue to have training camp in Westminster.
“Certainly whatever happens would not preclude us from talking about future years,” Eller said. “We’re certainly going to be in discussions with them about continuing our relationship. It’s been a very good one for both sides.”
The Ravens and McDaniel have negotiated several deals over the years.
And they don’t expect to have any problem continuing their partnership in the future.
“Basically, we would have started working the terms out of our contract extension a year ago,” Seidel said. “But the Ravens and the college realized that there was so much uncertainty that we might as well wait. We’ve been really looking past this year and not focusing just on this summer, but on what changes need to be made to make things even better. From our end, the Ravens are a good organization and they’re good people to work with.
“Right from the start, this has been a good relationship. It works so well and we enjoy having them out here. We hope they continue to think this is a good arrangement. It’s business. They’ve got to work through their situation. They will, and we’ll get back on track. The good news is once they do a new collective bargaining agreement it’s usually a long-term contract. Then, we ought to be in good shape for a while.”
That isn’t necessarily the case, though, for the local economy this summer.
Local economists have estimated that the impact of the Ravens holding camp in Westminster provides between $1.6 million and $3 million each year to Carroll County businesses.
“We’re started accepting the notion of them not having camp in Westminster this year and we’re looking for other ways to supplement income,” said Harry Sirinakis, the owner of Harry’s Main Street Grille. “It definitely looks unlikely that the Ravens will be here this year. We’re disappointed.
“It’s such a big part of what we’ve expected in Westminster for 15 years. We may just have a party anyway. It’s kind of par for the course with the economy. It’s one more unpleasant thing to endure.”
Meanwhile, Steve Nace, the manager at Baugher’s Restaurant, said training camp doesn’t affect business at all for him.
“No impact whatsoever since the first two years of camp,” Nace said. “It doesn’t change things for us one bit.”
Sirinakis said that the Ravens’ presence typically boosts his business, representing somewhere between 23 and 25 percent of August revenue.
“We bring in extra help,” Siranikis said. “It’s a fun time to be around. It’s a great way to build fan loyalty. It’s a shame that it’s not going to happen this year.”