Longtime Ravens public relations chief Kevin Byrne, who will step down in May, says it was the right time to step down from his position despite the Ravens being well-positioned to make a run at another Super Bowl in the coming years.
Byrne, the longest-tenured PR chief in the NFL, said he told team owner Steve Bisciotti in late December that he planned to retire at the end of the 2019 season, but he decided to work full time until the end of the 2020 NFL Draft and then serve as a consultant from his new home in South Carolina through the 2020 season.
But why now, with the Ravens having just put together a 14-2 regular season and appearing poised for more success?
“I’m going to be 71 in August, and as my wife, [Sally], and I were talking about over the last year, it seemed like the right thing to do and it is the right thing to do,” Byrne said on Glenn Clark Radio April 10. “We’re looking for a little more spontaneity and fewer have-tos in life, and we’re looking forward to this next step.”
Byrne, who began his career in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns in 1981, came to Baltimore when the Browns made the move after the 1995 season. In 24 seasons, Byrne saw the Ravens go 214-169-1 and earn 12 trips to the postseason, six division titles and two Super Bowl championships.
Byrne quickly went to work after arriving in Baltimore, establishing relationships with former Colts fans as well as the media and business community. He built a well-respected public relations operation during his tenure as well; the Ravens won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Pete Rozelle Award for its work with the media in 2010, 2012 and 2016.
The Ravens have averaged more than 70,000 fans per game at M&T Bank Stadium for years. How has the organization been able to build a winning product that resonates with fans? For one, Byrne says Baltimore has always been a great football town; having worked with former Baltimore Colts executive Ernie Accorsi in Cleveland, he knew all about the football tradition in the city.
Plus, Byrne says sports just mean more to a city like Baltimore.
“I think cities whose climate has real winters and their histories are based on industry, particularly steel, there’s a harder edge to the city,” Byrne said. “There’s more pride in the city. I think the geography of Baltimore being in the shadows of D.C. and Philadelphia on this East Coast corridor with New York and Boston, I think teams to the community mean more, to be honest. It’s important. It’s a brag point for cities to say, ‘All right, Johnny Unitas is ours. Lenny Moore is ours.”
Then it comes down to following some simple tenets.
“There’s no genius involved in it,” Byrne said. “The Baltimore fans look at you and say, ‘Look, give us a winner, work really hard, have smart people, don’t be jerks and get your people out in the community.’ If you do that, then they’ll reward you with great, great support and they have.”
Byrne also touched on topics relating to the upcoming NFL Draft, including …
On how general manager Eric DeCosta, Byrne’s friend for 20-plus years, will handle drafting from home:
“Eric has all this energy before the draft. On the first day of the draft, he historically has done a run with some people. He’s run some people into the ground because he’s in such great shape. On the second day of the draft, he and I always play racquetball in the morning. It relieves his tension a little bit at least for 45 minutes to an hour. That’s superstition that I’m not sure what he’s going to do. I know he has some equipment at home, but Eric needs to move to be relaxed. He’ll find another way to do it, but it won’t be his typical, traditional superstitious type thing.”
On ensuring that communication lines remain open for DeCosta, executive vice president Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, director of college scouting Joe Hortiz and the rest of the organization throughout the draft:
“Our IT team is becoming the key to life here now. They have to make this work, and … on our [conference] call the other day, they had Coach Harbaugh, Joe and Eric. Eric lives a little bit back from the road and it’s clear his WiFi wasn’t as strong as it should be. So we’ve had someone go over to his house and work on that because it’s got to work for the draft. He’s got to be able to stay in contact with 31 other teams. We have to be able to stay in contact with players. We want to check with players before we draft them. We always do that. As Ozzie said, let’s make sure they’re alive. All those types of things, we are reliant on all the devices that we all rely on. But for us, they can’t fall apart. It has to work because the league will have no sympathy.
On Harbaugh’s concerns that virtual team meetings may not be secure:
“It’s not a gentleman’s league in that regard. There are teams — and some of them have been very public because they’ve been caught and they cheat — so you have to assume that other teams are looking for some sort of an edge. So you have to pay attention to that.”
For more from Byrne, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens