March 15, 2011
Gridiron gridlock threatens camp
College, community take wait-and-see attitude on Jets return
As the stalemate between NFL owners and players continues, the local economic boost that comes with the New York Jets training camp at SUNY Cortland is in jeopardy.
“At this point, it’s up in the air,” college President Erik Bitterbaum said of the team’s return this summer.
NFL owners and the players union failed to reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement before Friday’s deadline.
The three-week training camp is tentatively scheduled to start either July 31 or Aug. 1.
At stake for SUNY Cortland would be the added attention, scholarships and student internships the training camp brings to the college, Bitterbaum said.
At stake for businesses and the Cortland community is the nearly $6 million in economic activity the camp generated last summer.
“Obviously we hope they come,” said Jim Dempsey, director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Once people come here, they say, ‘Hey there’s a lot to do here.’ That word of mouth can make a difference.”
The Jets have held training camp at SUNY Cortland since 2009. The team signed a three-year agreement before camp last year with an option to hold the camp in Cortland two additional years.
If an agreement is reached, the college would only need three or four days to be ready for training camp, Bitterbaum said.
Mark Braun, owner of Doug’s Fish Fry, had about a $15,000 increase in business sales from last year’s figures during training camp.
Doug’s Fish Fry had about a $12,000 increase in sales in 2009 from 2008.
He said about 30 players ate at his restaurant last year compared to fewer than 10 players the year before.
Braun is a lifelong New York Jets fan and a 15-year season ticket holder. It would be extremely disappointing if the team didn’t have a season or training camp, he said.
“I work a lot of hours. Football is one of my only vices. The only Jets game I’ve missed is when my daughter was born,” Braun said. “We get a lot of the players that come in and we get a lot of people behind the scenes, it helps our business.”
The Jets camp brings more people to his restaurant and gives it national exposure through the news media, he added.
“The Jets camp has been a nice little pick-me-up during the summer time,” said Andrew Young, a manager at Central City Bar & Grill. “I wouldn’t say it’s essential, but it definitely helps.”
Young said the bar saw about a 20 percent increase in sales, compared to August 2008, the year before the first Jets training camp in Cortland.
Local bars could take another hit if there is not an NFL season, Young said, since the football games attract visitors to the bars on Sundays.
A SUNY Cortland study concluded last year’s training camp attracted 41,000 spectators and generated an economic impact of $5.8 million. The camp generated about $4.3 million in 2009.
Kathleen Burke, one of three professors who prepared the study, said most of the economic impact came from the spectators’ direct spending.
Visitors spent about $2.6 million, she said.
SUNY Cortland spent about $566,500 to host the Jets camp last year, according to the study.
About $224,000 of that amount came from the state as economic development funding, and was spent on construction, which included installing two NFL quality fields, upgrades to Corey Union and replacing the locker room floor. Other expenses included housekeeping, equipment, support staff and security.
SUNY Cortland’s expenditures generated nearly $1 million for the local economy in 2010 and accounted for 18 percent of the $5.8 million economic impact, according to the SUNY Cortland study.
The college received $637,183 from the 2009 training camp, according to a 75-page agreement between the Jets and New York state released in January 2010 after repeated Freedom of Information requests. The 2010 camp brought the college a similar amount, though an exact figure was not available by press time today.
Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Industrial Development Agency, said he was watching the negotiations closely and hoping for the best.
VanGorder said the BDC-IDA, the Cortland Sports Council and the Convention and Visitors Bureau begin planning activities outside of the camp in the spring, including a Main Street reception to welcome the Jets to Cortland.
“We’re hopeful that the camp will go on,” VanGorder said. “It puts us on the map in Central New York and upstate. I think a lot of us would be disappointed if it didn’t happen.”
Last year, some of the players’ families stayed at Hope Lake Lodge in Virgil, which helped draw interest to the resort that first opened in late 2009.
Al Kryger, president of Greek Peak Mountain Resorts, said he thought his business could benefit this year from the Jets camp. He said the timing for opening an expansion of the resort, including the Adventure Center, in June would coincide nicely with the Jets camp. Kryger said there was not much anyone in Cortland could do about the NFL lockout but wait and see.
“I’ve got to believe it will happen,” Dempsey said. “It’s too big to fail. I can’t imagine no NFL season.”
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