Moving 150 people and more than 16,000 pounds of football equipment to Charlotte.N.C., for an NFL game against the Carolina Panthers is no easy chore.
Try moving that traveling party through customs and immigration, and you have a logistical nightmare.
Sunday the Falcons are set to play their first game out of the country since 2005 and will used this trip to face the Buffalo Bills at the Rogers Centre in Toronto as a test run for next season’s trip to London.
“We get to put in a process that we can fine tune for next year,” said Spencer Treadwell, the Falcons’ director of logistics and facilities.
This will be the first regular-season game the Falcons have played outside of the United States. The Falcons won exhibition games in Tokyo against Dallas and Indianapolis in 2000 and 2005, respectively.
The trip to London to play the Detroit Lions will mark the first time the Falcons will play a regular-season game outside North America.
The process and planning for the trip began shortly after the league released the schedule in April.
Back during training camp, the Falcons hired a company to help process everyone’s passport.
“We had to get them all registered to travel internationally,” Treadwell said. “I could draw on our experience on going to Japan a couple of times. What we learned from those two trips, we applied it to this trip.”
The Falcons set up stations for the different groups. Some players and employees already had current passports that had to be verified. Others had expired passports and they were in the renewal line.
Others were in the start from scratch line.
Getting everyone current and valid took several months.
“We put together a spread sheet and then we had to communicate with Canadian customs and immigration to make sure that they were aware of our arrival date,” Treadwell said.
The Falcons received a break with the Bills moving this home game to Toronto. They could have been facing the Bills at their outdoor stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. and facing the winter elements.
This game will be indoors at a more neutral-site game.
“We do have some fans in Toronto and I think if we play well we’ll create more fans,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “I think that will be important to the future of the organization. I think that we can over a period of time, with success, really create that type of advantage for us over there.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith is fine with the international exposure.
“I know that it’s very good for the Atlanta Falcons brand, it’s very good for the NFL brand for us to expose more people to our game,” Smith said. “I know that it’s watched on TV and (this game) gives people an opportunity to watch in person.”
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff went to college in Canada at the University of Guelph, which is about 50 miles outside of Toronto.
In 1990, after playing defensive back for the Gryphons, Dimitroff received his first pro football job with the Saskatchewan Roughriders as their Canadian scouting coordinator.
Dimitroff and Falcons’ director of personnel Lionel Vital, a former Canadian Football League and NFL player, have extensive personnel contacts in Canadian.
They are aware that Seattle (Brandon Browner) and New Orleans (Akeim Hicks) have found players in Canada. Hicks, who played at Regina University, was a third-round pick in 2012. He gave the Falcons fits is their last meeting with the Saints on Nov. 21.
“The big thing there is to make sure that you maintain your contacts up there and you continue to interact with their general managers and their personnel directors,” Dimitroff said on a radio interview. “We have to make more of a concerted effort to be more honed in there and we’re hoping to do this moving into the next few years.”
As the new collective bargaining agreement has cut offseason workout time down from 14 weeks to nine weeks, developing players has become a league-wide issue. Some players can get seasoning in the Canadian Football League.
“It’s an ongoing discussion about developing talent in the National Football League,” Dimitroff said.
While Smith and Dimitroff can concentrate on football, Treadwell has to make sure the week goes off without a hitch.
The Falcons were going to haul 11,000 pounds of their equipment with the moving company that they normally use. But the early-week weather forecast was not looking favorable, so on Tuesday they decided to fly all 16,000 pounds with the team.
“That was handled on my conference call (Tuesday) morning,” Treadwell said. “So, we need to beef up the operation there and on the ground here. We need a lot more people to move that equipment.”
Also, to expedite their move through customs, a manifest logging all of the containers and their contents was sent to the authorities.
After the game, Treadwell, Falcons security and part of his staff will go back to the airport ahead of the team.
They are going to try to make clearing customs to leave Canada as easy as checking into a hotel.
“The guys can grab their packets and in their packets we’ll have their declarations, passports and their boarding passes, so they can just grab it and go,” Treadwell said.
He is expecting everything to go smoothly.
“This will be very similar to London,” Treadwell said. “NFL teams don’t go to Canada, but once a year. So, the process is new to us and it’s a little bit new to them. I know they have baseball and basketball come through there, but the sheer size and volume or our travel party is much larger than what they are accustomed to.”