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NFL Teams Invade Small Communities Next Week: Communities Don't Mind

Communities that host NFL training camps enjoy huge economic benefits

| BY Kent McDill

In order to keep the Chicago Bears coming to Bourbonnais, Ill., to train every summer, the Kankakee County Convention and Visitors Bureau board authorized an expenditure of $500,000 to upgrade facilities at Olivet Nazarene University, according to the Daily Journal newspaper.

Since the Bears are the No. 1 tourist attraction in Kankakee County, the expenditure makes sense.

National Football League training camps open up next week, just in time for the players to sweat out the final week of July. About half of the 32 NFL teams maintain the long-standing tradition of getting out of town in order to train for the upcoming season. At the turn of the century, most teams were still leaving their big city digs to go to a relatively camp and quiet outpost to get the most out of their training time.

Today, many teams have built such elaborate training facilities for the regular season that they conduct their training camps at home rather than move out. But the ones who do hit the road, do so with the undying gratitude of the communities in which they sublet.

Bourbonnais is one such community. Lying 90 minutes and a whole other world south of Chicago, Olivet Nazarene University serves as the home base for the Chicago Bears and has done so since 2001, when the Bears moved out of equally small Platteville, Wis., where they trained at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville for decades.

Bourbonnais officials estimate they get between 8,000 and 10,000 visitors daily during the Bears training camp, which this year runs from July 23 to Aug. 18 this year. Bourbonnais itself has a population of 19,000. As Mayor Paul Schore likes to say, “You do the math.”

The Washington Redskins just moved their training camp from Ashburn, Va., an hour west of Washington, D.C. to Richmond, Va., which is an hour south. Richmond is not a tiny community, but it welcomes the Redskins with the same enthusiasm as the people of Bourbonnais welcome the Bears.

According to the Richmond, Va., community website, Richmond officials estimated they will get 100,000 visitors to the area during the Redskins’ stay this year. Estimating visitors will spend between $50 to $250 each a day while they are in town, the estimated benefit was $6.4 million to the region. The Redskins  are estimated to spend $2.1 million themselves.

Mankato, Minn., is 90 minutes southwest of Minneapolis, and when word got out that the Minnesota Vikings were a target of NFL officials looking to find a team to move into the long-abandoned Los Angeles market, the people of Mankato and Minnesota State University grew worried.

The Vikings have been going to MSU since 1966. When the NFL held its last lockout of players related to the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement, the Mankato  region estimated a loss of $5 million to its annual revenues.

The New York Jets train at State University of New York in Cortland, N.Y., three hours from East Rutherford, N.J. where they play their home games. Cortland County officials estimate their benefit at over 40,000 visitors and $5.8 million in economic activity. The impact is such that SUNY economics professors have conducted surveys of visitors in order to determine just how important the Jets are to the community.

The study determined that the Jets camp was visited by attendees from 32 different states and four Canadian provinces.

Other similarly affected communities are Latrobe, Pa. (Pittsburgh Steelers), Pittsford, N.Y. (Buffalo  Bills), and St. Joseph, Mo. (Kansas City Chiefs).

About the Author

Kent McDill


Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.