March 15, 2019

On the Road Again: Transporting the Baltimore Ravens

Written by Garret Weigel | Supply Chain

The National Football League has 32 teams. Each weekend during football season somebody is playing at home and somebody is playing away. This amounts to a significant logistical feat – or at least it is for one East Coast team.


For the Baltimore Ravens, moving the team, even to its home field from its performance and practice site, is somewhat monumental. So when the team plays away from home, it's another set of logistical challenges to meet.


These challenges begin with every individual player; each has their own equipment stored in a bag. But the player's equipment is only a small part of the substantial logistical choreography that equipment managers and their staff perform each weekend. In addition, the staff has an arsenal of gear to transport, including shoulder pads, helmets, jerseys, pants, cleats, hats, footballs, jackets, and kicking nets, as well as a host of miscellaneous items, such as clocks, posters, and a placard that goes over the entrance to the locker room that says "Play like a Raven." As the Ravens describe it on their webpage, "Everything… that makes its way to the sideline gets packed up and taken on the road."


Most of the gear is transported locally via truck and gets loaded on Friday afternoon. The staff starts early that morning and delivers bags to the locker room for the players to pack up. After morning practice, players’ bags are loaded onto the truck, along with an inventory of other equipment, gear, and supplies. Like many other NFL teams, they have an extensive equipment staff. They supplement their workforce with retirees (retired firemen for the Ravens) who work on a part-time basis to help transport the equipment.


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In the case of home games, trucks usually arrive at their stadium the day before and the staff (both full-time and supplemental) are there to meet them. Unbeknownst to many, the stadiums are bare during the week for other events. The equipment staff unloads and sets up the locker room with the needed equipment for the players in their individual locker areas. They put name placards on each locker area and completely outfit the players' needs for the upcoming game. In addition to the players, coaches and coaching staff also have uniforms and clothing for the games. Everything that you see on the sidelines is also transported and is the responsibility of the equipment managers.


When the team plays on the road, it's an even greater feat of logistics. Depending on the location, the equipment staff has to pack up truckloads of gear and ship it to wherever the team will be playing, sometimes clear across country. For the Baltimore Ravens, it requires sending everything, even water and Gatorade to stock the coolers in their visiting locker room.


For a professional sports team that travels, there’s an unspoken mission of their equipment staff: enable the players and coaches to go from bus to airport, airport to bus, bus to hotel, and eventually to the stadium to play. The whole process happens seamlessly, relying on a strong logistical support network provided by the equipment staff and all contractors involved.


Of course, there are many wrinkles in the supply chain flow. For example, new players enter the scene and some players have unique uniform requirements and footwear requests. Other players have specific requirements for their uniform specifications, which must comply rigidly with NFL requirements.


In 2001, the Super Bowl champions were to meet then President George W. Bush. They were set to take Amtrak from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. As buses carried the team from their stadium to the train station, a tree went down on the tracks where Amtrak was to travel to D.C. However, the president of the United States can't be delayed in greeting Super Bowl champions.


Fortunately for the Ravens, alternative transport was available. The motor coaches, along with a caravan of Baltimore Police escorts, made their way to the White House after some fuel stops to tank up for the unexpected trip. It was another logistical challenge the team had to overcome with little notice; it required quick thinking and decisive action. Such is the climate of logistics management for an NFL team, or any entity for that matter.


NFL teams rely heavily on the goods that are being shipped. And they're all being transported in a relatively short time. There's no room for error or mistakes. Like a corporation that ships products and goods, a well-managed supply chain is a competitive edge. Goods need to move smoothly and seamlessly so that players and coaches don't experience blips in the logistics supply chain.


For the Baltimore Ravens, or virtually any other NFL team, many modes of transportation are employed. There's over-the-road trucks, semi-trucks, passenger trucks, airplanes, trains, motor coach buses, and a host of storage containers that equipment travels in. Nothing can be lost. It all must get there promptly and intact.


Such planning and coordination every week demonstrates the value of logistics in our everyday lives. While we watch football every fall, we don't always recognize the important role logistics plays to manage what players need, use, wear, and have at their disposal. For the Baltimore Ravens, having a champion logistics team is part of an overall winning strategy.


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