Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Once in a Lifetime

First, an apology for the formatting. The picture feature isn't easy...

On Weds, my friend Troy asks me what I’m doing Sunday. After telling him it’s Ravens @ Patriots and my butt will be parked on the couch all day, he says “How would you like to watch the game at M&T Bank Stadium instead?”

My friend was a lucky recipient of an invitation a few lucky fans receive each year. We – along with 16 other fans – would arrive at noon, receive a tour of the stadium, then go to a suite to watch the game. Needless to say it didn’t take me long to accept the invite.

The drive from Richmond takes around three hours, but we left early to make sure we would arrive on time even if we hit traffic. We got there at about 11 AM, before anyone else had arrived, including Kim, the Ravens employee that organized the event.

Two people were in the stadium at the door. Later in the tour we learned that the folks that lease the suites can use them any day, and some will watch away games in their suites. The attendant let us in, and Walter – the man that would later take us on the tour – led me into the stadium to let me use the restroom.

I don’t know if anyone has ever been to an NFL (or other major) stadium while it is completely empty. To date, I hadn’t. I’ve been to a stadium where there were only a few people walking around. But seeing a place that’s normally packed with people instead devoid of life is sort of creepy.

I mentioned to Walter how the stadium was very strange completely empty. He said “Yeah, the stadium’s haunted.” I chuckled, and he said “I know it sounds like a joke, but I’m serious. It gets real creepy in here at night, when it’s dark and doors are opening and closing by themselves!”

After another hour, Kim and the rest of the party had arrived and we began the tour with Walter. We began by going upstairs to the luxury box area. Walter told us that if we have the money, we can rent any part of the stadium. All it would cost us to rent the field is $45,000…seems like a good deal to me! Anyway, he explained that one night they hosted three separate proms, and none of them even knew the others were there.

Walter also mentioned that the last building demolished prior to building the stadium was a piano shop. The final piano was in the stadium while Art Modell was still the owner. But once Steve Bisciotti took over, he moved the piano out of the stadium (Walter didn’t say where), but honored the piano store in another way. He had a section of the walk outside the stadium cut like a piano, with keys along the sidewalk.

From there, we moved on to the press boxes. He showed us the doors to the major boxes, but couldn’t let us in. These were the major network box, the Ravens box and the opposing team’s box for each broadcast. We then moved on to the larger, general press area, where we could sit while he gave us some more info about the area and who uses it.

The box holds almost 150 members of the press, and is fully equipped to handle any of their needs. All one needs to do to get into the press box on game day is submit credentials to the Ravens and receive approval to be in the box. Some day, I’ll probably start taking some shots at doing just that.

The box itself stretches from around the 40 yard line down behind the corner of the end zone. It’s a terrific view of the stadium from anywhere in the box. But Walter did say that you are seated in the box according to how you treat the Ravens in the press. The Ravens are clearly a notch above a first class organization!

After the press room, we migrated down to the tunnels at stadium level, headed to the Ravens locker room. On the way, he showed us the paths the media take to get to the Ravens press room and the opponents’ press room for post-game conferences.

Walter mentioned that the Ravens room is right off the elevator, while opposing team’s rooms are well down the hall. Among several home-field advantages many of us never hear about, another advantage similar to this is that when the players come out at half-time, the Ravens locker room is right next to where they come out, while the opponent’s is across the stadium. He said that it takes the Ravens 30 seconds to get to the locker room at the half, but takes the opposition three and a half minutes. He also reminded us that for all the advantages we enjoy at home, our opponents enjoy the same while we’re on the road.

I’ve been in the Ravens locker room before. In ’08 my dad and I went to the Ravens annual draft party, where we were allowed on the field and into the room. But we didn’t get such an intimate feel for it, with info on what, and who, is where. In the picture above, you’re only seeing about a third of the room. Ray Lewis’ locker is in the picture, fifth from the door. Joe Flacco’s locker is on the other side of the room behind me. While we didn’t see the visitor’s locker room, Walter said the whole locker room is the size of what you see in my picture, with metal lockers we all fondly remember from high school.

We walked through the showers next, a wide open area explained as meant to be a team-builder which is why there aren’t private areas for each shower. Then around another bend to a scale that was almost as big as I was to weigh the players. We got a chance to step on the scale if we wanted to, and Walter noted the scale could measure up to 500 pounds (in response to my question about how Sam Adams did on the scale).

After this, we walked past Harbaugh’s office. Walter knows Harbaugh and had nothing but great things to say about him. He said he talked with Harbaugh after Harbaugh was first hired, but that he didn’t know who Harbaugh was during the conversation. At the end, Harbaugh introduced himself, which shocked Walter a bit.

Three weeks later, Harbaugh saw Walter, walked up and patted him and said “Hey Walter.” He was floored that Harbaugh still knew his name. Walter said he has a hand-written Christmas card from Harbaugh framed at home.

We walked through the training room prior to walking back to the tunnels. The room was quite large, and Walter mentioned there is an X-Ray machine in another room, available to both home and away teams.

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From there it was onto the field. For those that don’t know, the field is artificial and state of the art. If you run your hands across it or simply try to pick up the “grass” you’ll note small pieces of rubber you pick up, like pieces of sand. These are from thousands of shredded tires, used to keep the turf softer on impact than the more traditional artificial turf. My brother-in-law used to play football in college, and said that stuff was nice, but a draw-back was that if you were on the turf, it could splash up into your eyes.

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We were allowed out onto the middle of the field, but only between the 40s, and weren’t allowed to run or jump on the turf. The turf is very soft, and you can really feel how good cleats would grab it. I would assume that we couldn’t run or jump on the turf because it could easily be damaged. It’s made up of thousands of individual squares, and replacing all of it costs – if I remember correctly – around $2.4MM. Each individual piece can be replaced, but you can imagine it’s not cheap.

Nothing in the stadium is cheap. The heating and electric bill during the off-season runs $30,000 per month, and goes to $1.4MM per month during peak months of the season. The field itself can be heated on cold days, or cooled on hot ones, which helps the players not feel the full impacts of some of the weather extremes. Benches are placed over top of grates that pump hot or cold air into them (5 for the Ravens, only 3 for the visitors). It’s clear that the stadium was built to be state of the art, and both be a fan as well as player-friendly stadium.

From there, we walked down the tunnel where the Ravens walk to get to half-time. On the wall was the above Raven, which Walter said at some point everyone on the team has touched. He told us while he doesn’t believe in luck, he does believe in positive energy, which we were asked to give to the Raven as we rubbed it prior to heading upstairs to the suite to watch the game.

Upstairs at the suites, we learned that the suites ranged from $75,000 to $250,000 to lease each year, and accommodate around 24 people per suite for most. Companies or people could get on a wait list, and when someone from the prior lease agreement doesn’t re-up, you get called based on where you sit on the list. Leases run for three seasons, and you are allowed to re-up your lease at any time.

While you can’t live in your suite, you can spend 23 hours a day there if you’d like. And while you can have as many people as can fit in your suite for a game, your lease agreement does NOT include tickets for the game. So on top of your $75,000 price tag for what would be an end zone suite, you’ll be paying another $30,000+ for 20 season tickets for you and your guests to attend the games.

We made it to the Ravens suite, where they had a catered lunch ready for us and the game on the television. And while the Ravens lost the game – in incredibly frustrating fashion – the entire experience was memorable. I feel as though I’m extremely blessed as a sports fan, having been lucky enough to personally attend some very memorable events and have some pretty unique experiences. This one ranks up there very highly, probably top five.

What a great weekend. A big thank you to Kim from the Ravens, who hosted the event; and Walter from SAFE, who gave us the tour!


  1. UR a lucky fella. I guess that's why you win @ Poker.

  2. Pretty great experience and well-written. Very cool. Can only imagine what that would be like in the home of a recent Super Bowl Champ...


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