RICHMOND — Six years ago, paying the Redskins to hold training camp here was hailed by local officials as a way to generate millions of dollars in economic development. They expected the Redskins to create hundreds of jobs, recharge the flagging tourism industry and boost the city’s bottom line.
Today, with two years left on the deal, city officials say hosting the Redskins every summer is a luxury that cash-strapped Richmond simply can’t afford.
“Financially, the training camp is a major drag on the city,” City Council member Parker C. Agelasto said. “That’s something that a city like Richmond, who has a very high poverty rate … just can’t afford to be providing these luxuries to professional teams when we’ve got to focus on some of our core.”
If the Redskins want to stay, city leaders say, it’s time for the team to start paying its fair share.
In May, the city auditor released a report that found the original deal underestimated the cost of developing and maintaining the facility for the Redskins while overestimating the revenue that the city expected to reap from selling sponsorships, collecting fees and earning rental income from unused space in the building constructed for the team.
How far off were the numbers?
Instead of a surplus — or even covering the city’s ongoing costs — projected income five years in fell short by anywhere from $4.6 million to $6.7 million. And for the next 15 years, the city is also on the hook for $750,000 a year to repay the $10 million loan used to build the facility.
The auditor concluded that the original projections, which were used to sell the project, were “not feasible.”
Under the original agreement to bring the team to Richmond, the Redskins — valued by Forbes at $3.1 billion — got the use of the new multimillion-dollar training facility and a guaranteed annual credit worth $500,000 in goods, services or cash.
With the expected increase in tourism, a flurry of corporate sponsorships and a variety of new revenue streams such as parking fees for fans and permits for food truck vendors, Richmond leaders were sure the project would pay for itself.
Instead, according to the audit, taxpayers ended up picking up a big chunk of the tab.
‘Great for the city’
Ask Bruce Allen about the deal, and the Redskins president sees nothing but success. He said the agreement has been a “financial windfall” for the city.
The deal, Mr. Allen said, will have lasting benefits for Richmond whether the contract is renewed or not.
“If you look and talk about the economics of the deal, it’s been a great asset for the city,” Mr. Allen said. “Not only the national TV and that exposure, which is beneficial, but if not for us, there wouldn’t be a facility. … I think it’s been great for the city.”
The mayor and every current member of the Richmond City Council save one disagree.
The council passed a resolution in March warning the Redskins that the city’s annual financial contribution must end if the contract is to be renewed in 2020.
“What we have on paper right now is not financially viable,” Councilwoman Kristen Larson said.
Mayor Levar Stoney, a Democrat elected in 2016, has repeatedly said that he would not have agreed to the deal. He told Fox Sports 910 on Friday that there was no reason for Richmond to be giving a cash contribution to a team worth billions of dollars.
Both sides met in mid-May to discuss an extension, but the Redskins are in no hurry to renegotiate.
Under terms of the original deal, the Redskins can unilaterally exercise a clause to stay another eight years. If that happens, Richmond will be under no obligation to continue paying the team’s $500,000 subsidy, a city spokesman said.
Would the Redskins stay without the city’s contribution?
“I’m not going to worry about that right now,” Mr. Allen said. “I’m just hoping for some sunshine to dry out our fields right now. That’s our biggest concern.”
Complicating Richmond’s murky future with the team is the franchise’s pursuit of a combined stadium and practice facility to replace the outdated FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, and Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia.
“I do see that in our future plans there’s a new Redskins Park, and that might take into account with training camp in the future,” Mr. Allen said.
Far off the mark
When city officials and the Redskins struck a deal in 2012, the agreement was sold as a win, in part because the deal extended beyond the two parties. Not only would the appeal of the Redskins bring in tourists and plenty of sponsorship money, but Washington was also only a piece of a bigger development project.
In addition to working with the Redskins, Richmond partnered with medical company Bon Secours, which agreed to build a nursing school — later changed to a medical office — and a new medical facility for the city.
Construction has yet to begin at either site, leaving Richmond with a significant shortfall of projected revenue.
That was not the only area where the city’s projected earnings fell short. Sponsorships and rental revenue, projected at as much as $4.4 million over four years, was just $633,722
The lack of revenue, Mr. Agelasto said, is why the City Council voted in February to restructure the remaining money owed on the $10 million loan to avoid default. For the next 15 years, Richmond will now pay $750,000 annually to service the loan.
Council member Kimberly B. Gray said the city’s schools have suffered as a result of the partnership.
“If you juxtapose [the annual cost of the deal] to the fact the superintendent last week put out a call for volunteers to help fix up bathrooms because they are so deplorable in our schools — our children don’t even have adequate bathroom facilities …,” Ms. Gray said. “And we’re spending $1.25 million on training-camp-related expenses.”
The Redskins — who received nearly $1.1 million in cash from the city through 2017, according to the May audit — have denied that the franchise is responsible for the city’s budget problems.
Mr. Allen said the training camp has been a financial asset, but the team can’t tell city leaders how to take better advantage of the Redskins’ presence.
“How they want to allocate, that’s not for me to judge,” Mr. Allen said. “The same way if they gave us $50, they shouldn’t tell us, ‘You need an inside linebacker versus an outside linebacker.’”
The Redskins have maintained that charitable efforts and taxes generated from hotels have made a difference in the Richmond community. Mr. Allen said one of the team’s reasons for holding camp in the city was to help and inspire youths.
Washington has implemented summer reading programs for Richmond schools and partially contributed to a new football field at a high school, among other things.
Eric Schaffer, the team’s vice president of football operations, said Washington’s charity contributions to Richmond totaled $819,556 from 2013 to 2017.
Based on the Redskins’ own accounting, which Mr. Allen said the team shares with the city, the combination of Bon Secours’ contributions and the team’s charitable efforts put the city $200,000 to $300,000 ahead of what the city has paid out.
“This doesn’t include me walking home on Robinson Street and having a beverage or two,” Mr. Allen said with a laugh.
But the Redskins boss has a point. The city acknowledges that its audit is not an economic impact study and does not measure the income generated for hotels and restaurants while the Redskins are in town.
A changing NFL
Former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was a big proponent of holding camp outside of Redskins Park. Before the move to Richmond, the Redskins held training camp at their Ashburn headquarters starting in 2003.
Mr. Shanahan, an old-school NFL veteran, said he believed getting out of town and bonding for three weeks was a good way to build a team’s chemistry.
He was hardly alone. For years, teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers have spent camp away from home. The idea was also seen as a way to extend the reach of a team’s fan base.
But these days, the Redskins are one of only 11 teams whose training camp is farther than 10 miles away from headquarters.
The swing has been dramatic since 2000 when only 10 of the league’s 31 teams (the Houston Texans were added in 2002) stayed close to home.
Around the NFL, franchises have built state-of-the-art complexes that make traveling less appealing.
In 2011, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they would no longer hold their camp in Westminster, Maryland. Team President Dick Cass said the Ravens could be more prepared at their 200,000-square-foot facility in Owings Mills.
More recently, the Minnesota Vikings ditched their preseason home of Mankato after 52 years. Beginning this summer, the Vikings hold camp in Eagan, where their 277,000-square-foot facility and headquarters are located.
Despite the trend, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said traveling to Richmond allows the franchise to reach out to more fans.
“There are benefits of probably staying home,” he said. “The biggest benefit is the bubble [indoor facility]. … To me, training camp is all about being together as a group and fitting together and trying to get some kind of chemistry and learning the system of practice and getting better.”
The Redskins have spent most of their camps away from home. Camp was held at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, from 1963 to 1994, and Frostburg State University in Maryland from 1995 to 1999. The Redskins moved back to Carlisle for a two-year stint in 2001.
Richmond, meanwhile, is feeling the repercussions of the deal six years later, Ms. Larson said.
“When I knocked doors back in 2016, this came up a lot,” she said. “To be honest with you, the Redskins are only a piece of it. It’s nothing against the team as a whole. It’s more so it was rushed through and the decisions really that the city made at that time.
“Now we have another chance to look at it and re-evaluate it. I think we need to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.