The Ravens public and community relations staff is the media’s and, in many respects, the public’s conduit to the football team – gatekeepers of sorts. If ESPN wants to interview quarterback Joe Flacco, they contact this group. If a local charity is seeking a donation, they do the same.
Outside requests for the players, coaches and front-office executives funnel through these eight employees.
Kevin Byrne, 37 seasons in the NFL
Chad Steele, joined Ravens in 2002
Patrick Gleason, joined Ravens in 2005
Tom Valente, joined Ravens in 2009
Marisol Renner, joined Ravens in 1999
Heather Darney, joined Ravens in 2011
Emily Scerba, joined Ravens in 2012
Kelly Quinlan, joined Ravens in 2012
The NFL is a mammoth that dominates the sports media landscape.
Football fans have an insatiable appetite for content, and media are constantly trying to satisfy that interest. The Ravens have a group of about 50 local media members who regularly cover the team all year, and that doesn’t include coverage from national outlets or various sports blogs.
The public relations staff facilitates interviews, discusses strategy on how to handle difficult lines of questioning and, when necessary, they inform players and coaches of what is being reported. They also work to garner coverage of team initiatives and upcoming events. Matching requests from the media with the demands of the football team is a challenge, and it’s a job that never truly stops.
The NFL has strict guidelines about making players and coaches available to the media. The head coach must be made available to media five times a week. Coordinators must be made available once a week. The locker room is open to reporters each day of practice and players must be available to talk to the media throughout the year. If teams or players break the rules, they are subject to hefty fines from the NFL.
In addition to ensuring the basic requirements are met, the PR staff handles all incoming requests. In a given week, Flacco may have interview requests from a handful of national radio shows, a conference call with the opposing team’s media, a podium session with local reporters, a one-on-one interview with a national print or television outlet, and a production meeting with the network broadcast crew covering that week’s game. After the game, a whole new round of requests comes in from radio, television, print and online outlets. The PR staff sifts through those requests, then coordinates with Flacco.
Following the rules and fulfilling requests are only part of the puzzle. The PR staff also has to find a time that players and coaches can meet those requirements in the midst of their jam-packed football schedule. Juggling is a necessary skill.
The media is able to watch practice throughout the season, but access varies depending on the time of year. Training camp practices are open in their entirety and the public relations staff spends those balmy days perched alongside the media throughout the three-hour sessions. When the regular season begins, practices are only open to the media for about 35 minutes.
The public relations staff makes sure media members get what they need at practice, but also keeps a close eye on what is being recorded. NFL teams keep a tight lid on any sort of football strategy, and teams don’t want to give away a potential advantage by having their practice plays broadcast.
Before each game, Byrne and members of his staff will meet with the head coach to facilitate an interview with the local radio broadcast team. They also provide the official inactives list to inform the media of the seven players who are gameday scratches.
Post-game duties can either be exhilarating or gut-wrenching. They get to experience the joy of victory standing on the sidelines of packed stadiums, but they also have the assignment of approaching players after a painful loss with the request to face difficult questions from reporters. Byrne regularly says the NFL is a relationships business, and the post-game setting drives home that point. During his career in the NFL, Byrne has celebrated Super Bowl victories with a pair of head coaches, but also had to go to players like Billy Cundiff (missed last-second field goal in 2011 AFC championship loss to New England) and Earnest Byner (fumbled at goal line in 1987 AFC championship loss with the Browns) to get them to face the media after a crushing playoff defeat.
Players routinely reference the 24-hour rule after games. Regardless of the result, they have 24 hours to soak in the outcome before they transition to the next game on the schedule. The same is true for the public relations staff. They get to the Under Armour Performance Center early in the morning following a game to immediately start working on the weekly game book – a collection of stats, quotes and unique storylines for every week – and publications like the game programs, the media guide, yearbook and more.
The PR department also handles the credentialing process for every game. A normal regular-season game requires distributing about 870 credentials. The credential demands increase substantially for high-profile games, and the most Valente ever had to distribute was about 1,300 for a prime-time matchup with the Steelers.
Part of the Ravens’ mission statement is to be a “positive force in the community,” and this is the group that puts that priority into action. The CR staff coordinates and organizes all of the Ravens’ outreach efforts. That could be sending a signed football as a donation for a silent auction or renovating a library at a local elementary school.
During the season, the players have one off day a week. Those off-days quickly get booked up with events such as school visits or serving meals to families in need, and they are some of the busiest days for the community relations department.
A major project last year was the complete renovation of the Charles Carroll Barrister Elementary School #34 library in Baltimore City. The project was part of the Ravens’ efforts to promote literacy in the Baltimore community, and the CR department coordinated several events at the school.
The work from the CR staff over the last year includes collecting more than 27,000 pounds of food for the Maryland Food Bank, supporting 35 local students to achieve a college education and donating more than $1 million through grants and partnerships.
“We’re committed to seeing things through,” Darney said. “We see these things as a partnership, not just a one-and-done event.”
The CR staff also works with the Lady Ravens – the wives and significant others of players and coaches – to present them with outreach opportunities. Around the holidays last year, they set up an event with the Lady Ravens to pack care packages for the troops overseas through Operation Gratitude.
Media requests don’t stop when the Ravens leave Baltimore. As soon as the team touches down in a new city the day before a game, they meet with the broadcast crew for production meetings. These meetings with the head coach, coordinators and key players provide background information that commentators use during the broadcast. Players and coaches are often more forthcoming in these sessions because they know the information won’t be shared until the game is already in progress.
Once gameday arrives, the routine begins again. They take their notes in the press box or on the sidelines. They keep a watchful eye on what happens and what is said.
And at the end of the day, regardless of the result, their job is to help the team face up to the questions that come their way.