Photo by Sarah Walor
Year four of the Washington Redskins Training Camp is set to kick off July 28. The three-week annual affair — billed as the hottest ticket in town when city officials courted the team back in 2012 — has since become an popular political piñata. How did we get here?
To start, attendance at the camp plummeted from about 165,000 in each of its first two years to about 81,000 last summer, challenging the official line that the upfront investment the city made to build the camp would yield a sustained tourism destination where out-of-towners would come and spend money.
In fact, the camp is still costing the city money. The Economic Development Authority agreed in the eight-year lease to pay $500,000 each year to a team Forbes magazine last fall estimated is worth $2.85 billion, the third most valuable franchise in the National Football League. Sponsors would cover the payment, officials said. Wrong again. The city has footed a growing portion of that sum, shelling out $286,000 and $361,000 in the last two years to make up the difference. If the EDA doesn’t honor the agreement, the team can leave, no strings attached.
Data aside, city schools still haven’t seen a substantial return on investment for providing the Westhampton School property, which officials leveraged to entice the Bon Secours Richmond Health System to sponsor the camp. Had the city sold the property instead of leasing it to the health system, proceeds would have gone back to the school maintenance fund. Given the school system’s current financial plight, the decision is especially vexing.
With the team fresh off a playoff appearance last season, fans may flock to the Leigh Street practice facility this year. But even if they do, the camp has come to represent what happens when a broke city eager to be seen as a national player enters a deal with stars in its eyes rather than a firm grip on its wallet.
For giving the taxpayers of Richmond another example of shortsighted governance and wasteful spending, we name the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Camp our Richmonder of the Month.