As the Arizona Cardinals scramble to find a home for their 2013 training camp, Flagstaff officials press forward. “From the university’s perspective, we’ve moved on,” said Rich Bowen, Office of the President, Associate Vice President for Economic Development, Sustainability, and Bio-Medical Initiatives at Northern Arizona University. “We loved having [the Cardinals] here, but we need to get on to protecting our local economy, and we’re not without options.”
Even though the National Football League team has held camp in Flagstaff since arriving from St. Louis in 1988, the Cardinals issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to Glendale for hosting the Cardinals Training Camp beginning in 2013. The RFP was due back to the Cardinals on Dec. 7, 2012.
Flagstaff submitted a proposal of their own that was signed by Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours and Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Julie Pastrick. “The City agreed to buy advertising in the Cardinals’ stadium and other advertising in conjunction with the Cardinals,” said Mayor Nabours. “The Chamber of Commerce agreed to promote the Cardinals camp and committed to getting business together to buy a skybox for the season. But 90 percent [of the proposal] was NAU indoor and outdoor facilities.”
However, at Super Bowl XLVII, team president Michael Bidwill said about preseason training, “There are many elements where it is great about doing it in Flagstaff, but there are also great possibilities of doing it at University of Phoenix Stadium. It could be a really a fantastic site.” Bidwill was quoted in the Word from the Birds official Cardinals blog.
Then, on Feb. 28, Bidwill announced to a large group at the Glendale Chamber of Commerce’s 62nd annual Business Appreciation Dinner that Glendale was the first choice for camp. Valley sports media response was not supportive.
“Come on Cardinals! Flagstaff is tradition! It’s cooler, it’s a fun two-hour drive and it pumps about $10 million into the Flagstaff economy every summer,” blasted Craig Fouhy, sports director for ABC15 in his sports blog on March 3. Glendale’s 15-year deal had the Cards staying at a hotel and practicing in an air-conditioned bubble tent.
Two days later, Acting City Manager Horatio Skeete and Economic Development Assistant Director Dave McAlindin updated Glendale City Council on the Cardinals’ training camp proposal. During the March 5 meeting, Arizona Republic’s Paul Giblin tweeted “Council is stone-faced overall.” The excitement anticipated from the Council was absent, perhaps because the city has already been under pressure for pumping money into supporting the NHL’s Coyotes.
Sounds of Silence would be a good description of news around the move since that meeting. “Ron Minegar [Cardinals Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer] is out of contact and he seems to be the one making the decision,” said Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours on March 20. “I have never been told by the Cardinals that they are not coming.”
“Ten days ago I was talking to Ron Minegar. We agreed that the door is still open and he told me that they have not yet made a final decision,” explained Nabours. Minegar confirmed to Nabours that he received the withdrawal of Flagstaff’s proposal.
“[NAU President John] Haeger could not keep waiting on the Cardinals because he could end up with empty facilities. So he needed to move ahead. He told me that he had to withdraw the proposal so that he was free to look at others. But until he has booked something else, he would be open and willing to talk to the Cardinals,” Nabours said.
Mum is the word for Glendale as well. “We responded to a request for bid, we submitted it and now it lies on the Cardinals,” said City of Glendale spokesperson Jennifer Stein. “City Council hasn’t approved the plan, but did provide direction on the plan. We’re in the middle of the process.”
As this article went to press, the Glendale City Council had not scheduled a vote on the proposal to allow the Cardinals to use the complex.
“Northern Arizona University, in partnership with Flagstaff, made an extraordinary offer and worked diligently to negotiate with the team,” NAU President John Haeger said in a statement.
“We’re still exploring, we’re not just waiting for something to happen,” said NAU Director of Public Affairs Tom Bauer. “General sports camps, cheerleading and band camps are the opportunities that we are looking at.”
Bowen agreed, “We have not been sitting on our hands since the RFP came out. Sodexho [NAU’s food service partner] was asked to reach out and we have had enormously good responses. We feel comfortable that we can easily replace the economic impact this year. We have recognized that there is always a potential that the Cardinals could go somewhere else. We might have one of the best camps in the NFL, but what could we do to replace the economic impact of the Cardinals?”
Peter King of Sports Illustrated ranked NAU as one of the top two preseason NFL training camps in the nation, calling the campus and Flagstaff an “underrated spot” with pristine fields and exceptional access to players.
“The economic impact [from Cardinals camp] has diminished as the overall economy changed. We have watched fan behavior change – they brought their own food and drinks and did not stay the night,” Bowen noted, adding that the high-end restaurants did see impact from players and the families of players when the Cardinals were in town.
The latest Cardinals economic impact study revealed that the greatest effect resulted from spending by the Cardinals team on the campus rather than from out-of-town fan spending. “After all, Cardinals fans constitute a relatively small percentage of overall August tourist activity – probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 percent,” reported The Arizona Cardinals NFL Training Camp, 2010: Economic Impact on Coconino County study by Arizona Rural Policy Institute and Arizona Hospitality Research & Resource Center.
“At the end of the day, it is about the Cardinals saving money,” explained Bowen. “The proposal has the City of Glendale subsidizing the Cardinals camp. … Phoenix media has reported about $150,000 in subsidies. They will be able to cut travel costs. This comes for the Cardinals as a financial decision rather than a fan decision,” said Bowen, who is also President and CEO at Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona (ECoNA).
Will they stay or will they go? “The president has said that we will probably hear in the press before we hear from the Cardinals,” said Bowen. FBN