Roy Sommerhof remembers the date he joined the Baltimore Ravens. It was May 1, 1996, and he was one of the organization's first hires.
Now 25 years later, Sommerhof will retire after the 2021 season, marking the departure of another one of the Ravens originals – a group that numbered only about two dozen when the organization was first launched in Baltimore.
The Ravens are still young by NFL historical standards, but Sommerhof – the Ravens' Sr. Vice President of Stadium Operations – is ready to take a well-earned break. The Towson native has spent his life's work helping build both of Baltimore's iconic franchises.
"I've been doing this for a long time – 42 years – and I wanted to spend more time with my wife and enjoy our time together," Sommerhof said.
Prior to working for the Ravens, Sommerhof spent 16 years working in ticket sales and stadium operations for the Baltimore Orioles.
He first joined the Ravens as the head of ticketing. The team didn't even have approval to do business in Maryland when he first came on and didn't get it until the middle of June – about three months before their first regular-season game.
"Amazingly, we sold every ticket. And we've sold every ticket since," Sommerhof said.
Those early days were wild, and part of the memories Sommerhof will treasure.
They worked seven days a week back then. They had a Sunday night club, which would convene to start work for the upcoming week after spending the day and having dinner with their families. On weekdays, they arrived early and worked until 10 or 11 at night.
"It was a lot of long hours, I'll tell you. It was a lot of work, but very rewarding," Sommerhof said. "We didn't perform well on the field that  year, but it was fun. It was a good, learning and bonding experience for everybody. Everybody worked together for the common good. Only four short years later, we're in the Super Bowl doing the same types of things.
"When I think back on those times, I think about the people and how much fun we had with each other. Working hard, but it was a good thing. It wasn't drudgery. It was a really fun time for everyone to be working hard and working for that goal."
When the Ravens were set to move from Memorial Stadium into their own stadium, it was Sommerhof who helped spearhead the efforts. He also led the Ravens' three-year, $120 million self-funded project of upgrading M&T Bank Stadium, which was completed in 2019.
With Sommerhof's guidance, M&T Bank Stadium received a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certification in 2013, becoming the first North American outdoor stadium to achieve the distinction. In 2020, M&T Bank Stadium was recognized by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with a SAFETY Act Designation, acknowledging excellence in gameday security practices.
"Roy's contributions to the Ravens are immense," Team President Dick Cass stated. "Leading with professionalism, dedication and a forward-thinking mindset, he's played an integral role in every aspect of our stadium operations. We are grateful for his tireless work while striving to create a first-rate experience for everyone who visits M&T Bank Stadium."
The average fan surely doesn't know what is involved in stadium operations, but Sommerhof manages all aspects of M&T Bank Stadium, including gameday parking and transportation, security, guest services, custodial services, catering, medical services and stadium maintenance. It's not just football games, but other events such as major concerts and international soccer matches.
"What I tell people a lot is what we do is bring a small city of 70,000 people together for a short period of time. It's actually 73,000 because there's about 3,000 people that work here," Sommerhof said. "It's a massive undertaking. It's like moving an army."
Much has changed since Sommerhof started the job. For example, when he first started, nobody worried about what was being brought into the stadium. There were no metal detectors.
"When I first started with the Orioles, you could bring a small keg into the building," Sommerhof said with a laugh. "A guy named Wild Bill Hagy used to do that at Memorial Stadium every game in section 34. Times have really changed."
Now there are countless contractors and agencies to orchestrate before every home game. They all work in concert with each other behind the scenes to make a great environment for fans.
Sommerhof said what he's most proud of is the relationships he's built along the way. But at the end of the day, it was always about the fans.
"The bottom line is that the guests, when they come in, they don't even know you've been through all these things," Sommerhof said. "It's been happening since the Roman days. We've just been trying to perfect it every game we can."
For a behind-the-scenes look at stadium operations, check out the Team Behind the Team photo essay.