A Brief Meandering on the Possibility of the Ravens Leaving One Day

Russell Street Report’s Tony Lombardi posted a commentary that may give some Ravens fans —e.g., older fans who remember 1984— a reason to be relieved. According to him, last June, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti called the idea of the Ravens playing anywhere other than M&T Bank Stadium “preposterous.” It certainly feels better than “I have not any intentions of moving the goddamn team. If I did, I will tell you about it, but I’m staying here,” but that’s mostly because of the person saying the words.

Still, Lombardi is not subtly hinting that at some point in the near future, The Bank, as it’s known, will undergo some kind of renovation. Again, assuming that the Ravens’ plan isn’t to build another stadium or perhaps move to another city. Whuh?

To even think this, let alone say it, would be as close to blasphemy as one can get for a Baltimore guy and Ravens fan. A day one Ravens fan. The problem is, before anything gets done between the Ravens and Maryland Stadium Authority, before Bisciotti makes any final decision, the NFL will have its say in the matter.

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I’m sure if the NFL doesn’t know now, they will at some point, that Baltimore City is doling out a lot of development money in the form of TIFs and other public moneys these days. Upwards of $400M is going to Michael Beatty’s Harbor Point development, the new local home for Exelon, the owner of the local electric utility. Actually, it’s probably more, since he bought some of the bonds himself and will benefit from the interest paid on those.

Then, there’s the 20 year/$535M TIF being debated in public and soon to be voted on by City Council that will go to Sagamore Development, the development arm of Under Armour owner Kevin Plank, to develop their Port Covington project. Part of the project will be a new corporate home for Under Armour, other parts slated to be public parks and other such amenities.

While I’m sure the NFL won’t be concerned with local laws concerning the running of the electrical utility or the number of jobs Sagamore claims it will bring to Baltimore, they’re seeing big dollar figures being moved. Even in a city known for its striking areas of poverty. Forget the fact that stadiums aren’t even a totally local concern in Baltimore (except for the Baltimore Arena, somehow). When it comes time to discuss the stadium situation in Baltimore, the league is definitely going to inquire about the large sums of money being spent by the City to develop real estate projects.

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Still, other than public statements to the effect that Bisciotti doesn’t want to move the team elsewhere, does Baltimore/Maryland have any leverage to keep the Ravens?

The growing sentiment around the country may be swinging towards kick rocks when it comes to public financing of sports stadiums. Las Vegas seems willing to say yes to the Raiders as we wait for their current home, but Oakland might not be interested in committing that much money. San Diego may ultimately be willing to part with the Chargers and spend that money on other things. In the event that those teams moved, their cities would be open, but would they have changed their minds about stadium financing?

What other non-NFL cities are there lining up? The league itself feels public financing is getting harder to get from cities.

While the situation between the Ravens and Baltimore is different, as they deal directly with the State and its more vast resources than a city and with Las Vegas seemingly ready to come off the map of possible NFL cities, where else could the Ravens go and get as good a deal as they currently have? The stadium deal that Art Modell eventually took was a sweetheart deal he used to get himself out of the financial straits he’d put himself in back in Cleveland. Before L.A. and now Las Vegas, Baltimore was the city the league used as the relocation threat. Most of the TV markets larger than Baltimore are occupied with teams already. In moving to Vegas, the NFL would be moving from the 6th largest TV market to the 42nd. Would they want to stomach that again?

Having said that, I’m sure that most Ravens fans would rather not tempt fate by asking the question for real and hope that the Ravens and Stadium Authority can work out the future of the Ravens’ tenure in Baltimore, with the least input from the Jerry Jones’ and Stan Kronke’s of the world. Reportedly, the Ravens and Stadium Authority have had a great operating relationship through the years, so there’s no reason now to believe they wouldn’t be able to work out terms of a renovation of the current stadium. Or more.

Besides, losing the Ravens, if it came to that, would equal political suicide for anybody in charge for letting a 2nd NFL team leave Baltimore on their watch. Baltimoreans have long memories and besides, Ravens fandom in Maryland isn’t confined to any political party or the political boundary lines of Baltimore City (even back in the day, the Baltimore County Executive became involved alongside Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer in the effort to keep the Baltimore Colts. The outcome of this was the impetus for the creation of the Maryland Stadium Authority). Annapolis is as wedded to the Ravens as Baltimore is.

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I want to say I know they’re not leaving now or in the foreseeable future. But it’s not that simple. I don’t want to be that naive. Bisciotti may think Baltimore is the best home for the Ravens, but what does the league think? The L.A. decision wasn’t just about one team.

The Falcons are barely 20 years into the Georgia Dome and they’re moving into a new stadium after this season. The Vikings are moving into a new stadium. The Rams’ move to L.A. was predicated upon their new stadium. Chargers and Raiders will be moving into new homes at some point. Even the Bills are talking about moving into a new stadium. The league is more than willing to take the PR hit from pulling up stakes. That shameless press conference announcing the Rams’ move is proof-positive that they don’t care.

All I can do as a fan is support my team and if this one decides to go, pack up my jerseys next to my Baltimore Colts pennant and get up the next morning like last time.

Writer, et. al.