The year is 2012. The city of Richmond at this time was dealing with “revenue shortfalls” that “forced (public) schools to cut millions of dollars … forcing scores of layoffs, furloughs and other job cuts”. What better time to help out a billionaire sports owner. That year, the Washington Redskins (Commanders will be used from now on) announced that their training camp would move 100 miles south to Richmond in the following year, 2013. The agreement states that summer training camps will be held in Richmond for the following 8 years. In addition, the team announced that their corporate headquarters (in Loudoun County) would receive a $30 million upgrade, some of this was to be paid for by Virginia taxpayers.
All was right in the world. But problems started even before this agreement was settled on. As USA Today would write this year, this “was a deal both sides would regret later”.
Right before the deal was finalized, the Governor of Virginia announced that the state, city of Richmond and Loudoun County would add a combined $6.4 million to help the HQ upgrade and to help the team move to Richmond. In previous weeks before this deal was agreed on, the Governor tried to add $6 million to the yearly state budget for the Commanders. State House members said no. So, the Governor tried to add it and hide it by “never openly (tying) it to a Redskins deal”. This failed, and the Governor was eventually “forced to (disclose) to lawmakers” that “the intention” was to give it to the Commanders. When House members asked the Governor why exactly he wanted to give the team $6 million, his administration had no answer:
“They couldn’t show anything concrete we were getting … The stadium’s still in Maryland. We didn’t know what we were getting for the dollars” – House Member, Washington Post, 2002.
Therefore, the Governor decided to just take a lower amount of money from a “grant fund program” that allowed him to take this money without state House approval. This became part of the $6.4 million given to the team.
Back to the agreement. Why exactly did the state of Virginia, city of Richmond and Loudoun County do this? Economic Growth!
“Recent data shows that … the team generates nearly $200 million in economic activity in Virginia and over $100 million annually in player salaries, and provides $9.8 million annually in state and local tax revenue. Expansion of the training facility is estimated to support 393 jobs during construction, while generating $52.8 million in total economic activity. The existing corporate headquarters supports, directly and indirectly, 350 jobs and provides $2.2 million in state and local tax revenue” – Washington Post, 2002.
This deal will pay for itself, said the mayor of Richmond at the time of the agreement. This deal will “not cost the taxpayers any money” said the city deputy director of economic and community development at the time. It will bring in “thousands of tourists weekly”, it will “pump up the local economy” and best of all, this deal will “generate more than enough money from sponsorships and rental fees”.
Of course, none of this was remotely true, as we came to find out. For starters, the price of everything became real quite fast. Before the Commanders had even stepped foot onto the fields, the city of Richmond had spent more than $40 million of their money on both the training camp and several other side deals that were a part of it. Once you start looking at what the city needed to buy and construct, well…the numbers don’t really add up:
“The Redskins training facility … was built with $10 million of city money. Richmond, at the end of March 2014, will have recovered $1.82 million of that money through the sale of naming rights and the leasing of office space at the facility … That number could grow to as much as $6.3 million over the next five years” – PolitiFact, 2014.
The numbers don’t add up for a variety of different reasons. One is that the city did virtually no research into the numbers given to them by the Commanders. When the team gave the city a report which claimed that the training camp will draw in 100,000 annually and generate $8.5 million in economic impact, they believed it. No reason to dive any further into it. How did they get 100,000? Nobody knows…which is quite alarming since this number is the “source of the primary economic benefit”. Hence, it is the basis of how we get the numbers in this report.
Style Weekly did a fantastic report on this very question. It would seem simple. Right? An independent study was done and found this number. Well, no. Not in this instance. Try keeping up with this story.
- The President of Chmura, who did the economic analysis, at first claimed that the number came from another study. Then they say that the Redskins maybe did the study? Then Chmura admits that they don’t know whether the number is from fan surveys or turnstile counts or something else?
- Finally, it is figured out that 100,000 comes from Mangum Consulting, an economic analytics company. The founder of Mangum says that they got the number from the Commanders. How? He won’t tell us due to a “confidentiality agreement”.
- Loudoun officials claim that they didn’t do any hard attendance counts, nor did they ask for an economic study of the camp’s impact.
- A lawyer who represented the Redskins says the attendance figures are “based on the team’s experiences in Loudoun”. Then, he says that Loudoun officials provided the figures because they were “in the process of making the case for keeping the Redskins in Virginia”. The next day, he claims that the numbers actually came from the Redskins.
That sounds like some concrete evidence.
As the costs continued to go up, it was not long before the city realized what a financial hole that they had put themselves in. The city struggled to pay the yearly fee, which varied between $500,000-$750,000, that the Commanders “demanded” before agreeing to come to Richmond. For three weeks a year. Amazing deal. The agreement also allowed the Commanders to have veto power over sponsorships and tenants. Although the city of Richmond was able to make a few, small changes to the agreement in the beginning, it was not long before the Commanders stopped responding to these requests. For example, a few months into the original agreement, the city of Richmond was able to change a little part that allowed some money from the sale of land to be given to public schools, rather than just be pocketed by the team. That is just about where it stopped.
Within a few years, the Washington Post wrote a story discussing how training camp had little fan enthusiasm and “eroding support from city officials, who believe the 2012 deal to host the three-week workouts has proved more bust than boon”. One of the many reasons for the lack of local fan support came down to anger with Richmond taxpayers at the “large cash contributions” being given to the Commanders. The Commanders SB Nation site did a good job breaking down the first few years of this deal. Then a city auditor report was released and found that the city of Richmond had “underestimated the cost of building the team its facility and overestimated revenue from sponsorships, fees and rental income”.
The Commanders decided that the best way to counter this stream of negativity was to simply ignore it. Instead, they continued to put out ridiculous statements of how Richmond was benefitting from the original deal thanks to a “financial windfall”. Other times they would release charts and figures that misleading show the city receiving positive revenue streams (when none existed). But soon the drop in attendance at training camp was becoming too big to ignore. As the Washington Post reported at the time, the long-line of food vendors were now pretty much gone. Why? Because there was a $2,500 license fee to work there, and few fans were attending the camp.
When the city asked the Commanders to reconsider the financials of the deal, including the $11 million dollars remaining to be paid to the team, they were rejected and told that the Commanders had “no plans to exit the deal before its conclusion”. The city therefore told the team that, barring “significant financial concessions”, the Commanders would not be allowed to continue using the facilities in Richmond after the deal expires in 2020.
In 2013, the Richmond Times Dispatch started what would become a yearly tradition of exposing the ridiculous costs of each training camp. Essentially, they were asking the questions that people wished the politicians had done before the original agreement was signed.
After five years, the Dispatch had enough and wrote an editorial urging the city to “cut its losses”:
“Not a single soul in Richmond seems to be pleased with the Redskins training-camp deal these days, and no wonder: The city might soon be on the hook for $750,000 a year to pay off the cost of building the facility. That’s on top of the $500,000 the city is supposed to pay the team for practicing in town. At the same time, the hoped-for ancillary business for food vendors, hotels, and the like has fallen far short of expectations … Richmond dipped into its school construction budget to the tune of more than $5 million for the training camp” – Richmond Times Dispatch, 2018
Thankfully, the Commanders eventually agreed to get rid of a requirement that the city pay a local cash contribution to cover team expenses. This saved the city over $650,000 that they owed the team under the original written agreement. Sadly, they couldn’t get everything removed from the agreement. Richmond’s taxpayers are still stuck paying the Commanders $700,000 a year until 2033.