Rich­mond and the Red­skins

Host­ing train­ing camp has not been the boon the city ex­pected

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY LIZ CLARKE

rich­mond — The eight-year deal be­tween the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins and Rich­mond of­fi­cials to hold train­ing camp in the city was touted as a win-win when struck in 2012.

For Rich­mond, it was hailed as a busi­ness-de­vel­op­ment coup — one that would lure thou­sands of tourists weekly, pump up the lo­cal econ­omy and gen­er­ate more than enough money from spon­sor­ships and rental fees to pay for the $10 mil­lion prac­tice fa­cil­ity the city would build for the team. And for the Red­skins, the deal promised to ex­tend the team’s brand and strengthen ties with its fan base to the south.

But five years into the deal, the rev­enue Rich­mond ex­pected hasn’t ma­te­ri­al­ized, which means the city has had to cover the short­fall in the $500,000 they agreed to pay the team an­nu­ally to de­fray its costs of hold­ing camp out of town. More­over, progress has been slow in re­pay­ing the $10 mil­lion loan to con­struct the fa­cil­ity. To date, just $1 mil­lion of the debt has been re­tired.

The Red­skins have com­piled fig­ures show­ing that the train­ing camp deal has ben­e­fited the city once tax rev­enue and char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions are fac­tored in, but the eco­nom­ics have an­gered tax­pay­ers and last year were a hot­but­ton is­sue in the city’s may­oral cam­paign, in which all 12 can­di­dates at one point crit­i­cized them.

On Tues­day, the Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch pub­lished a scathing ed­i­to­rial about the deal with the head­line “Rich­mond School Kids Come be­fore Mil­lion­aire Ath­letes” and a pho­to­graph of a de­crepit boys’ bath­room at the city’s Ge­orge Ma­son Ele­men­tary School, last ren­o­vated 37 years ago, show­ing two of four uri­nals in work­ing or­der and only one sink op­er­a­tional.

It read in part: “What­ever pub­lic­ity Rich­mond might be get­ting

out of the deal can’t be­gin to stack up against the need to im­prove Rich­mond’s schools. Fix­ing them would do more for the city than any sports or en­ter­tain­ment of­fer­ing pos­si­bly could . . . . No­body from out­side the area is ever go­ing to look at the city and say: ‘I’m go­ing to move to Rich­mond. My kid will have to sweep rat drop­pings off his desk at school and his teach­ers will have to wear sur­gi­cal masks be­cause the air is so bad, but at least I won’t have to drive far to watch Kirk Cousins run drills.’ ”

In a tele­phone in­ter­view last week, the city’s new mayor, Le­var Stoney, who is on record as say­ing he never would have signed the train­ing camp agree­ment, ac­knowl­edged the city has ben­e­fited from the pro­grams, play­grounds and equip­ment do­nated by the Red­skins Char­i­ta­ble Foun­da­tion in re­cent years. He also char­ac­ter­ized Rich­mond’s re­la­tion­ship with the team as “good.” Nonethe­less, he said he was in the process of rene­go­ti­at­ing the con­tract in the city’s fa­vor and was op­ti­mistic about a so­lu­tion.

“It can be a bet­ter deal for Red­skins and for the city,” Stoney said. “For me, it’s about the fact that we write a Red­skins check ev­ery year, and they are a very, very prof­itable busi­ness en­ter­prise. I do be­lieve a city as cash­strapped as we are should not be in the busi­ness of writ­ing a check to a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar fran­chise.”

Forbes magazine in July ranked the Red­skins as the fifth­most valu­able NFL team, worth $2.95 bil­lion.

Red­skins Pres­i­dent Bruce Allen didn’t re­spond to a ques­tion about whether the team was in talks to rene­go­ti­ate the con­tract. In an in­ter­view last week, Allen char­ac­ter­ized it as a win for mul­ti­ple par­ties.

“I think the ben­e­fits have been for our Red­skins fans in south­ern Vir­ginia and eastern Vir­ginia and south­west Vir­ginia and a lot of our fans from North Carolina,” said Allen, a Uni­ver­sity of Rich­mond grad­u­ate who took the lead in ne­go­ti­at­ing the train­ing camp deal for the Red­skins in 2012. “And the kids of this com­mu­nity have been able to touch and feel pro­fes­sional ath­letes like they never will be able to do if they weren’t here. I think that’s the ben­e­fit.”

If train­ing camp is any gauge, en­thu­si­asm for the Red­skins has waned in re­cent years.

The food ven­dors that once lined West Leigh Street out­side the wrought-iron fence sur­round­ing the fa­cil­ity have dis­ap­peared, un­able to earn enough to jus­tify the $2,500 li­cense fee to set up shop for the three weeks of camp. Crowds for af­ter­noon prac­tices are less vo­cal than in past years, when chants of “RG3! RG3!” rang out the mo­ment for­mer quar­ter­back Robert Griffin III set a foot out­side. Com­pared to past years, there are also fewer fans, al­though Allen dis­puted that ob­ser­va­tion.

The Red­skins, who no longer re­lease at­ten­dance fig­ures, did make pub­lic their own ac­count­ing of the fi­nan­cials of the train­ing camp deal.

It shows, on one hand, that Rich­mond has paid $784,751 to the Red­skins to date (not count­ing con­struc­tion of the $10 mil­lion fa­cil­ity). That re­flects the por­tion of the city’s an­nual $500,000 obli­ga­tion that wasn’t cov­ered by the cred­its that were sup­posed to make it a break-even propo­si­tion: train­ing camp spon­sor­ships, rent pay­ments (from a cor­po­rate ten­ant that was never found for the sec­ond floor of the train­ing-camp build­ing that houses the team’s locker rooms and of­fices) and “in-kind” ser­vices of vol­un­teers, for ex­am­ple.

Last year’s short­fall of $138,519 was the small­est to date, which was en­cour­ag­ing for the city. It pre­vi­ously paid the Red­skins $285,538 in 2014 and $360,694 in 2015.

The Red­skins’ ac­count­ing also in­cludes other sources of rev­enue that turn the $784,751 deficit into a $294,518 net gain for the city. That $1.08 mil­lion swing is reached by adding di­rect tax rev­enue (from the team’s ho­tel and cater­ing bills; the Red­skins sou­venir store, for ex­am­ple); rev­enue that Rich­mond’s Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity gen­er­ates from camp-re­lated events such as an an­nual golf tour­na­ment and ban­quet; and do­na­tions from the Red­skins Char­i­ta­ble Foun­da­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Jane Rodgers, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the foun­da­tion, its con­tri­bu­tion to Rich­mond since the deal was bro­kered ap­proaches $750,000, which in­cludes last week’s gift of $60,000 worth of sport­ing equip­ment to Rich­mond’s John Mar­shall High. The foun­da­tion’s work fo­cuses on the city’s school­child­ren and in­cludes the con­struc­tion of two NFL “Play 60” play­grounds (one be­hind the end zone of the prac­tice fields at camp; an­other at an ele­men­tary school in Rich­mond’s East End), fi­nan­cial sup­port for aca­demic-ath­letic ad­vis­ers in the schools and tu­tor­ing pro­grams for at-risk chil­dren.

“We want to be a year-round com­mu­nity part­ner,” Rodgers said.

Julious P. Smith Jr., chair­man of the Rich­mond Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, which man­ages the camp, con­firmed that his or­ga­ni­za­tion was work­ing with city and Red­skins of­fi­cials to re­struc­ture the deal. But Smith stressed that the Red­skins have been gen­er­ous bene­fac­tors to the city in other re­spects.

“The team has gen­er­ated busi­ness for the city and its res­i­dents,” Smith wrote in an email ex­change. “They have also in­vested time and money in the city schools and their stu­dents.”

Re­gard­less of how the con­tract is re­worked, an­other cost as­so­ci­ated with the Rich­mond train­ing camp deal won’t show up on a ledger. It’s borne by the Red­skins, rather than the city. It’s the “lost op­por­tu­nity cost” of not scrim­mag­ing against a ri­val NFL team dur­ing the three weeks of camp.

Un­der the terms of the con­tract, the Red­skins must hold all of their prac­tices at the $10 mil­lion train­ing camp the city built for them. But many NFL teams that scrim­mage with an­other team dur­ing camp pre­fer to do so on a “home-and-home” ba­sis, tak­ing turns host­ing the joint prac­tice at their fa­cil­ity. For decades, the Red­skins did just that with the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, vis­it­ing Steel­ers camp in La­trobe, Pa., for a joint prac­tice one year, then host­ing the Steel­ers at Red­skins camp the next year in Carlisle, Pa., or Frost­burg, Md.

While the Red­skins can host a vis­it­ing team for a joint prac­tice in Rich­mond — as they did the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots in 2014 and the Hous­ton Tex­ans in 2015 — they’re pre­cluded from re­cip­ro­cat­ing with a trip the next sea­son.

As a re­sult, they’ve been un­able to find a team will­ing to travel to Rich­mond the past two years.

Ac­cord­ing to Coach Jay Gru­den, quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins and other Red­skins, prac­tic­ing against an­other team dur­ing camp of­fers sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits. It not only breaks up the monotony by giv­ing play­ers some­one other than team­mates to hit, it also pro­vides an hon­est gauge of their readi­ness.

“I wish that was all of train­ing camp: just prac­tic­ing against other teams,” Cousins said last week. “The value lies in the fact that it’s dif­fer­ent schemes. You get very com­fort­able and ac­cus­tomed to the other side of the ball when you’re go­ing against them day in and day out. They know our hand sig­nals, our code words, what we like to do bet­ter than any de­fense that we’re go­ing to play dur­ing the sea­son and vice-versa.

“Those are the things that you don’t want to have the an­swers to the test be­fore you take the test; you want to play it true and hon­est. When you have a brand new team come in here with brand new play­ers, it re­ally helps you get a bet­ter test of where you are as an of­fense and as a group.

For the Red­skins, that test didn’t come un­til Thurs­day’s pre­sea­son opener at Bal­ti­more. The re­sult was uglier than the 23-3 loss in­di­cated, send­ing the Red­skins back to Rich­mond for the fi­nal two days of camp with a long to-do list.

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Red­skins play­ers take part in camp in Rich­mond, where en­thu­si­asm has ap­peared to wane and at­ten­dance has dwin­dled in re­cent years.

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