Ravens games are the premier event in Baltimore on a fall Sunday afternoon. Each game brings tens of thousands of people into the city, and the Ravens’ Stadium Operations team is responsible for those guests seamlessly and safely getting in and out of M&T Bank Stadium.
“We are basically bringing together of small city of 70,000 for a period of four hours,” Sr. Vice President of Stadium Operations Roy Sommerhof said. “They’re coming together, hanging out here and then leaving. It’s kind of like moving an Army for four hours.”
It’s a daunting task. And running a stadium is far more sophisticated than unlocking the gates and ushering fans to their seats. Every game requires detailed preparation on multiple levels, and this is the group that makes it happen.
Long before anyone steps into M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens get their plans in place. Hosting an NFL game requires cooperation from several groups, and the Ravens work with a variety of public and private entities to ensure each game runs smoothly.
In the days leading up to each game, the Ravens hold a critical meeting with the Baltimore Police Department, FBI, Homeland Security, Maryland Transportation Authority and other groups. They talk through every possibility, developing contingency plans on top of contingency plans. The conversations range from discussing emergency response plans to coordinating with rail companies to ensure freight trains aren’t running through the city as tens of thousands of cars are trying to get on the highway after a game.
“These are things that people don’t really think about, but we have to account for and we have to be prepared for it,” Sommerhof said.
In addition to working with various local authorities before each game, the Ravens Stadium Ops team also goes through its own internal processes to get the facility ready to open. Waldt and Cohen perform a weekly stadium walk-through to check on any concerns. It’s a detailed process of going through the stadium top-to-bottom to resolve any issues before gameday.
The area surrounding the stadium is just as important as the inside, and the stadium operations crew also prepares that space. A few days before each game, the group installs flooring and tents for a variety of hospitality areas, and works with the Ravens marketing group to coordinate details surrounding Ravens Walk.
Preparing the physical stadium is only a piece of what goes into each game. What makes a great gameday atmosphere are the people inside that stadium, both fans and players. And the Ravens have made significant investments over the last few years to give Baltimore fans the best possible experience from the time they pull into the parking lots, to the time they leave M&T Bank Stadium.
“One of the things the Ravens recognized about four years ago is that it’s not enough to just open the gates and have people come in and enjoy the football game,” Sommerhof said. “We want to make sure they really have a special time when they’re here. We’d felt as though we’d done a pretty good job with that, but we wanted to take it to the next level.”
To take it to that next level, the Ravens partnered with the Disney Institute and hired full-time staff to focus specifically on the fan experience. Tamayo, who previously worked at Disney, was hired last year and tasked with helping to create a positive environment for fans on gameday. Those efforts included every Ravens employee and gameday stadium partner going through training with Disney on ways to best interact with guests.
“Disney is obviously known worldwide for the services they provide at their parks, hotels and resorts,” Sommerhof said. “We thought, ‘what better mentor for us than the Disney company?’”
An example of a program Tamayo implemented is the “Great Play Card,” which recognizes gameday staff who provide exceptional customer service. The cards are handed out each week and staff members can turn in the cards for a reward after every game. The Ravens also created opportunities to formally recognize gameday employees who go above and beyond in their work.
There is nothing bigger than gameday for the stadium operations team.
The Ravens have about 2,500 people working in and around the building on gameday. That group includes parking lot attendants, police officers, concession workers, ushers, medical personnel, transportation authorities and more. When gameday arrives, the stadium operations team benefits from the preparation they have done during the week, and that frees them up to maneuver around the stadium to “put out any fires” that arise.
An area inside M&T Bank Stadium that few people can access is known as the Security Command Center. It’s on the service level, and there are two separate rooms – one that focuses on transportation and the other on security. Cline spends much of his Sunday in that room, surrounded by representatives from the team’s various public and private partners.
Managing transportation is a significant piece of what happens inside the control room. Through partnerships with local public entities, the command center can control nearby traffic lights to help ease the flow of cars around the stadium. They also have the ability to change the electronic signs above interstates to provide any information about accidents or alternate routes.
The most critical assignment for those inside the command center is to ensure safety of all the guests at the game. All in the room have a wall of televisions in front of them, bringing in video feeds from 180 security cameras. They can focus on any of those feeds, which allows them to quickly resolve any issues during games. Any fan text messages sent to the security line also run through this room. The group coordinates with fan-facing employees throughout the game, in an effort to avoid any major issues.
“A huge part of what we do is to make sure people have a good experience and most importantly a safe experience,” Sommerhof said.
When the season ends, the work doesn’t stop. The Ravens are in the midst of a $144 million renovation at M&T Bank Stadium, which will significantly upgrade the venue. As part of the project, the team is installing massive video boards, new LED rings, escalators and elevators to the upper deck, a new sound system, upgraded kitchen facilities and expanding the control room. A project of that scale requires involvement from multiple parties, and the stadium operations crew coordinates it every step of the way.
The dust and construction makes for a dirty, noisy offseason. But the stadium crew will have M&T Bank Stadium ready for business by the time football season rolls around this fall.