The Arizona Cardinals football team is back in Flagstaff, preparing for their upcoming season by training at high altitude. The Flagstaff training, where team members use the facilities at Northern Arizona University, is a favorite for many fans, who enjoy the up-close contact with players.
Many businesses also enjoy the Flagstaff training camp, which generates millions of dollars for the local economy.
(FBN’s Jon Gustafson recently prepared this report on the Cardinals training camp and the economic benefits to the region. )
Small cities across the United States that are typically preparing to host NFL training camps in late July have been bracing for potential economic losses as disagreements between franchise owners and the players association led to a lockout that has lasted more than three months. Season length, salaries, health care and free agent signing are issues that have kept business leaders guessing whether their local economies would take a hit this year. Flagstaff is one such city, having been the Cardinals’ home for training camp since the team moved to Arizona in 1988.
“What a wonderful thing to have a relationship with an NFL team over these many years. It’s been a win-win for both the Cardinals, the university and the community,” says NAU’s Skydome Director and Cardinal’s liaison Dave Brown.
NAU’s Center for Business Outreach (CBO) prepared a report showing that last year’s 2010 training camp attracted 38,000 fans, added $9.7 million new dollars to the regional economy and was tied to the creation of 122 jobs. Most striking, the report found more than 50 percent of the visitors stayed overnight for an average of three days and spent roughly $254 per person, per day.
Collins’ Irish Pub and Grill, located downtown, is one local business that sees firsthand the economic impact of Cardinals training camp. “For Flagstaff, it’s comparable to a holiday weekend that lasts for three to four weeks,” said Collins’ General Manager Kyle Volk. “You can almost schedule your busy times around when the camp is taking place or getting out. We always need to have a couple extra people on per shift during those busy times.”
NAU’s Skydome management, which facilitates the training camp, is also hoping that a negotiation is reached soon. “We’re moving as if we are going to have training camp,” said Brown. “[Otherwise,] it would be a loss financially for the university and certainly to the community of Flagstaff.”
Many students are employed through the Skydome for such tasks as shuttling the NFL players to and from practices and preparing the Red and White scrimmages, but their jobs may also be lost if the lockout continues. “We have quite a few students in place right now, but we are presently trying to secure some more employment opportunities for those kids,” said Brown.
Perhaps one of the greatest, but toughest to measure, losses as a result of the league-wide lockout would be the publicity that Flagstaff and NAU receive from national news outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated. In 2005, the Cardinals camp was rated third in the nation for its picturesque views and open access to high-profile players.
“It’s impossible to measure the visuals that someone in New England sees on ESPN. I mean, what’s the image across the country for Arizona – it’s saguaros and roadrunners,” said Wayne Fox, assistant dean of the CBO. “It’s huge for NAU too – we did a study this last year and we found that every student at NAU’s Flagstaff campus has about a $20,000 per-year impact on the economy…to have visiting families coming to our campus, it’s pretty powerful.”
If there is one good takeaway, it’s that Flagstaff might do better in a lockout than other small, rural communities that host the camps. According to Fox, “I’m going to guess that the loss of tourism is less for us than for other small cities – we have high amenities and August is a high-demand month regardless of the camp activity.”
Yet, there is no question that Flagstaff residents and the many tourists who come to watch the team would be disappointed. “We have great friendships with the Cardinals and I think besides the financial impact, just the relationship of the many years of working with these people would be missed,” said Brown. “Some things you just can’t control.”
This year, there have been a lot of people crossing their fingers and hoping for solutions to disagreements between players and owners. However, the negotiations have underscored the fact that while the NFL creates a significant economic boon for communities hosting training camps, there are no guarantees for the future. FBN
Photo: Kyle Volk . Taken by Michael Bielecki