With 2011 Ravens training camp in Westminster history, community finally feels cruel reality of lockout

June 22, 2011 | Luke Jones

On a night in which Baltimore was abuzz with the legendary rock band U2 playing a monumental show at M&T Bank Stadium, Ravens fans took a hit unlike any they’ve felt in the 16-year history of the franchise.

With Wednesday’s announcement of the Ravens moving their 2011 training camp from McDaniel College in inviting Westminster to the inaccessible confines of their training facility in Owings Mills, the NFL lockout just became very real for fans and a local community itching for the annual return of football in late July.

The annual day trips to a Wednesday morning practice — accompanied with a stop at Baugher’s for breakfast or dessert or Harry’s Main Street Grille for lunch — will be wiped out, even as the owners and players appear to be moving closer to an agreement to end the more than three-month-long work stoppage. The economic impact on the Westminster community will be substantial as an estimated 112,000 fans flocked to the Carroll County town in late summer of 2010.

“We’re disappointed we won’t be back at McDaniel and in Westminster this summer. We delayed the decision as long as we could,” said Ravens vice president of operations Bob Eller in a press release. “There are logistics that needed to be addressed now, including McDaniel’s schedule, the [Best Western] hotel, the fields and other Ravens football functions. Right now, we don’t know dates for camp, and we’ve been forced to make other plans.”

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Those plans mean a training camp held in the Ravens’ extravagant year-round facility in Owings Mills. The team’s lease agreement with Baltimore County does not allow fans to attend practices at the complex, with parking restraints and travel infrastructure unsuitable for training camp crowds, according to team president Dick Cass.

The Ravens hope to hold “one or more” camp practices at M&T Bank Stadium for fans to attend free of charge. And Cass revealed the team has already held discussions with McDaniel College to return to Westminster in 2012 and beyond, a key revelation considering the Ravens’ contract with McDaniel expired last year.

Fans can only hope this is a one-year aberration and the Ravens make good on their stated intention to return to Westminster next summer. However, it’s no secret that many NFL teams have moved training camps to their year-round facilities in recent years, citing reduced costs and fewer distractions in preparation for the regular season.

But the lost goodwill in those cities has to be substantial compared to the priceless memories created when thousands of purple-clad fans flock to Westminster every August.

“We hope to have a full NFL season in 2011, but the current timing compelled us to make this decision,” Cass said. “We waited as long as we could, but we’re beyond the dates when we could efficiently prepare for the move to McDaniel for a normal training camp start. We do fully anticipate, however, to be back at McDaniel next summer.”

Given the organization’s upstanding reputation for always doing the right thing for the greater Baltimore community, the Ravens more than deserve the benefit of the doubt, but you never really know when dealing with uncharted territories. A smooth training camp in Owings Mills followed by a successful — even championship? — season might entice the organization to reconsider its position.

But time will only tell what the future holds for Wesminster and the Ravens’ summer plans beyond this season.

Even if a collective bargaining agreement is reached and the preseason and regular season go off without a hitch, the first real damage has been done to the fans in this fight between billionaires and millionaires.

Westminster’s local economy will suffer.

Families with financial constraints that make purchasing pricey game tickets nearly impossible will miss chances to see their favorite team in person.

And countless kids will lose opportunities to brush elbows with the likes of Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, and the rest of their football heroes.

To this point, fans could afford to feel indifferent to the labor situation without any consequence.

The NFL draft went off without a hitch, even with the gray labor cloud hanging over the New York spectacle and the boos raining down on commissioner Roger Goodell.

Fans aren’t able to watch off-season training programs or organized team activities such as rookie or veteran minicamps that were wiped out by the work stoppage.

But a lost summer in Westminster is terribly disappointing for anyone who’s made the trip to McDaniel to see the Ravens up close and personal.

The Ravens had to make the difficult call to pull the plug on Westminster with a labor agreement still far from a sure thing despite the recent progress. I won’t beat the organization up too much given the collective role that all 32 owners and thousands of players have played in this mess.

As is typically the case in matters such as this, the fans took the major blow on Wednesday.

And it’s a damn shame.

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