Locked-out? NFL training camp sites start to sweat

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Jake’s Stadium Pizza has been a fast-food fixture on the Minnesota State University campus for nearly four decades. This summer, they’re cooking that thin crust with crossed fingers in Mankato, Minn.

The NFL lockout, now headed toward its fourth month, is threatening a revenue-driving, profile-raising event for this small, family-owned business: Vikings training camp.

“We’re hoping they get it done, because it’s not just us. It’s the whole state that will suffer,” said Wally Boyer, the owner of the joint where players from Jim Marshall to John Randle have recuperated after many a draining workout. Fans, too, have long made that familiar walk down Stadium Road after watching practice to fill up and cool off.

If the work stoppage lingers long enough to keep teams holding traditional training camps, the hit would be felt far beyond Minnesota, and it wouldn’t just be about losing money.

In upstate New York, the Jets have trained on the SUNY Cortland campus the last two years.

“Just their presence alone has stimulated people. It’s just good for the mental health of the community,” said Cortland State football coach Dan MacNeill. “For our people, it’s been fun. It has impacted the football program. We don’t have normal use of our facilities. But an NFL franchise, no matter where you go, there’s a heck of a following.”

Seventeen of the 32 NFL teams last year held training camp at their year-round facilities, reflecting a trend toward cost-and-time efficiency in an era in which chemistry is built and conditioning established well before the two-a-day grind in August.

But the other 15 teams still take their show on the road, many of them to slower-paced cities and small colleges where their presence is a big deal _ and a big financial boon.

Some people make a summer vacation out of watching their favorite team run drills and scrimmages. Day-trippers at least stop for a bite to eat on the way out of town.

The Cardinals have held camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff since 1988, and the school’s Rural Policy Institute estimated it brought $7 million to the local economy last year, with an overall impact of $10 million. There were over 38,000 visitors, 81 percent of those from out of town, along with 122 jobs created by the camp.

In southern Minnesota, a 90-minute drive from the Twin Cities, Vikings training camp makes a $5 million impact on the region, said Anna Thill, president of the Greater Mankato Convention and Visitors Bureau. Last year, it drew 60,000 visitors from at least 30 states, and a few foreign countries.

The university charges $7 for parking near the practice fields, but that’s only part of the story. The school also receives tremendous exposure.

“They do bring people here, and young people are introduced to the campus. There’s certainly a marketing value to the Vikings being here that is difficult to determine,” said Michael Cooper, the university’s media relations director.

Whether it’s Westminster, Md., Anderson, Ind., or Spartanburg, S.C., the reflected glamour of having an NFL team in town for a few weeks can go a long way.

“You can’t put a price on it, to be honest. Newspaper articles go out every day that have Georgetown, Ky., as the dateline. It puts the community on the map,” said John Simpson, executive director of the Georgetown/Scott County Tourism Commission. The Bengals train at Georgetown College, about 100 miles south of Cincinnati.

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