The Baltimore Ravens will hold training camp in Owings Mills next month, breaking a 15-year streak at McDaniel College that began when the team moved to Maryland and will end as labor strife roils in the NFL.
The owners’ lockout of their players has disrupted the league’s offseason operations since March 12, forcing teams to cancel workouts and other activities while casting doubt on the season itself.
Kevin Byrne, Ravens’ senior vice president of public and community relations, said the organization stretched its deadline to change training camp locations until Wednesday, hoping to return to Westminster with the league operating under a new collective bargaining agreement.
“Our first deadline internally was May 1 if there was no end to the lockout at that time,” he said. “Then we changed it to May 15, and then June 1 and then June 15. And with the owners meeting scheduled for [Tuesday], we thought we’d wait to see what the report was. And while there was hopeful news … they didn’t know how long this was going to go.
“To be fair to all parties, we had to make the decision.”
Staying in the team’s practice facility in Baltimore County could also buy the team more time on the field.
“It basically takes us two full days to move the entire football operation to Westminster and another two full days to bring it back,” Byrne said. “The possibility of losing four days is significant, especially if the calendar only has a few days for preparation for the regular season.”
Byrne and Ethan A. Seidel, McDaniel’s vice president of administration and finance, said they hope the team returns to Westminster next summer when the dust from the labor dispute has settled.
“The biggest loss for us is the fans who would have come to visit the campus, and the publicity associated with the training camp,” Seidel said. “It’s the exposure where we get the greatest benefit. We’ll miss that this summer, but we’re hoping when the contract is finally worked out we can work something out for the future.”
The city of Westminster will miss out on the more than 100,000 extra visitors drawn to the four-week camp and its associated events. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and former broadcaster and Hall of Fame Coach John Madden visited last year and were peppered with questions about the league’s labor situation. Former University of Maryland football Coach Ralph Friedgen and U.S. Naval Academy Coach Ken Niumatalolo visited to talk up their upcoming matchup.
Westminster Mayor Kevin Utz said the loss would be “a little devastating.” Some hoteliers and restaurateurs, he said, saw business increase 20 percent to 30 percent while the team and its fans were in town.
Utz said the city, which hosted Baltimore Colts training camps, had been working on plans to expand the business boost brought by the Ravens by drawing more fans deeper into the downtown.
“It’s not just in the evening, and it’s not just during the day, it’s all the time, folks up here trying to get a glimpse of them,” he said. “We have a tremendous atmosphere up here while they’re here.”
Terry Hasseltine, the state’s director of sports marketing, called the news a “very significant loss” for the town.
“You become king and queen of the sports world for that time” during training camp, he said. “Every reporter is there. Every marquee player is there. And it’s a great chance for the team to come together before they get to the preseason and the regular season schedule.”
Training camp in Owings Mills could mean big changes for fans.
The team’s agreement with the county does not allow fans to attend practices. Area streets could not handle the traffic and there isn’t adequate parking, Byrne said.
One solution would be to hold select training camp workouts at M&T Bank Stadium, he added, “which would be free and open to the public.”
Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz reached out to the team Wednesday to offer assistance in holding the training camp in Owings Mills.
“Baltimore County is thrilled to be home of their training camp. We would welcome any way we can work things to make things open to the public,” she said. “I think we would be interested in welcoming fans and making it a wonderful experience for the team and the fans.”
The team’s first pre-season game is Aug. 11 against the Eagles in Philadelphia. The regular schedule opens Sept. 11 at home against the Steelers, lockout permitting.
Daily Record business reporter Melody Simmons contributed to this article.