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The Washington Redskins are in town, and it’s pretty hard to miss them. It feels like the town is caught up in some sort of burgundy and gold frenzy. Streets are shut down. Billboards are up. Bumper stickers and decals are out everywhere. So many jerseys. For the roughly three weeks that the team is in town, Richmond has made a full pivot to embrace them. And it’s fascinating.

I imagine that loyal fans have been looking forward to this brief but glorious visit for months. And on the other hand, for us less-regular non-football fans, it all sneaks up on you. I’ll admit that I fall into the second category. I know enough about the game to cover the basics, but I never attended a professional game, let alone a training camp.

This is the second year that the Washington Redskins have had their training camp in Richmond. This is pretty exciting for the city considering that Richmond doesn’t have any major sports teams. In order to not miss an opportunity to cover happenings around Richmond, a couple of us made the short trip over to training camp.

The day that we picked ended up being the second day of practice against the New England Patriots. Estimates reported that at least 10,000 spectators would be attending. It seemed like a good idea to get there early: 7:15 am. After joining a small but growing line of fans, we noticed that we were there before anyone from security, official personnel, and the players. It also didn’t take us long to realize that we were the only two people without any sort of Redskins or Patriot gear. So much for blending in. After nearly two hours without much movement or any sign of the gates opening, we learned that morning practice had been canceled. With a long wait ahead of us, we scooted out of line and made plans to return for afternoon practice.

The afternoon session was a different beast. Inside the gates, there were people everywhere -- all decked out in jerseys, t-shirts, hats, and anything else that the NFL could license. Fans go through impressive lengths to show off their team pride.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a great show. But the training facilities came with a $10 million dollar price tag. And to complicate the matter, there isn’t much transparency around the city’s contribution to building costs. Furthermore, Richmond pays the Redskins $500,000 annually to help offset the team’s expenses during the duration of the camp. There are clear economic benefits to hosting sporting events but do they balance out the overall cost of bringing the team here for roughly three weeks?

The training facility will eventually pay for itself, if it hasn’t already. The real controversy with the investment is tracking the actual return. Did it make sense in the long run to build this facility here? It could be difficult to justify if the city diverted resources to the building cost from other civic needs like education, transportation and infrastructure.

To get a better sense of the facilities economic impact on the community, we pulled a few numbers surrounding last year’s training camp courtesy of the Richmond Times Dispatch:

53,932: Number of people who attended last year’s camp

$230,979: Direct tax revenue that the city collected as a result of the camp

$7,800,000: Economic impact generated by out-of-town attendees

$2,700,000: Direct economic impact generated by the Redskins football team

$67.88: Average purchase at the camp’s official team pro store

$20.46: Average on-site food and concessions purchase

$11,316: Increase in meals tax revenue over the previous year during the camp’s duration.

$33,400.00: Estimated value of positive media exposure

$8,500,000: Estimated annual economic impact

The greatest benefit might be hardest to track, though. The atmosphere that day at the practice was overwhelming. People were stoked to be there. And it was inspiring to be around so many people who genuinely wanted to support their teams. There was an undeniable common bond happening. In the long run, that has to be a good thing, right? The final day of the Redskins’ training camp will be held August 11th. Regardless of your level of excitement for football, I recommend attending. It’s really quite an experience.
August 08, 2014 — Ledbury