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Chiefs may not return to UWRF for training after this summer

February 5, 2009

The Kansas City Chiefs may not return to UW-River Falls for training camp as early as 2010. The Chiefs have contracted to return to UWRF for the summer of 2009, with an optional one-year clause for 2010, after which the team will move its annual summer camp down to Missouri.

“At this point, it’s not particularly accurate to say that the Chiefs are leaving RF,” said Mary Halada, the former vice chancellor of administration and finance for UWRF. “There is nothing in writing between us that says that they definitely won’t return here in the future.”

The possibility of the Chiefs returning to Missouri for training camp has been discussed for quite a while, Halada said.

Pressure has mounted on the Chiefs to return training camp dollars to the Kansas City area since they moved to River Falls from William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., where they had held camp from 1963-90.

The Missouri state legislature passed a state tax credit that awarded the Chiefs $25 million to use towards renovations to Arrowhead Stadium. As part of the agreement to return, the Chiefs agreed to donate $10 million of that to finance the construction of a new, $13.5 million practice facility in St. Joseph, Mo., just 40 miles north of Kansas City, reported the Kansas City Star.

The Chiefs absence would have an impact on both the city and the University, starting with the care and maintenance of the practice and football fields. According to Steve Stocker, the director of the Hunt/Knowles facility, the Chiefs head groundskeeper, Andre Bruce, arrives every spring to prepare the fields. Bruce brings with him a $30,000 budget that covers rolling, seeding and repairing the fields over summer.

“[The Chiefs] put down more grass seed on the seven acres they care for than the rest of the 30 acres of athletic fields we maintain throughout the year,” Facilities Director Manny Kenney said.

If the Chiefs leave, the University will then have to pick up that tab.

“We will definitely incur additional labor, material and equipment costs just to maintain those four fields to the same level,” Kenney said. “I am doubtful that we will put that level of labor and material resources into it that they did.”

Beyond facilities maintenance, UWRF would also lose several summer job and internship opportunities. According to Stocker, Bruce hires two UWRF students to intern full time for him over the summer and help work on the fields.

“Recreation and Sports Facilities [also] employs eight full time students from mid-July through mid-August to work in the Knowles Center and Hunt Arena,” Stocker said. “Rec and Sports Facilities also employs four students to work in the Ramer Field concession stand during all scheduled practice sessions. So, we’re talking around 12 student positions lost just on our end.”

A 2006 economic report put together by economics professor David Trechter estimated that UWRF paid roughly $138,000 to students who worked the camp over summer.

According to Halada, the University has also had the opportunity to purchase equipment and upgrade facilities that would otherwise not be affordable without the Chiefs presence. UWRF has also been able to hold housing and food service increases to a lesser level because of the Chiefs.

“Although hosting a training camp on campus is profitable, it is not all about dollars and cents. When and if the Chiefs leave RF, there won’t be a financial impact that most students will notice,” Halada said.

The impact reaches beyond the University, however. With the Chiefs gone, the city of River Falls would no longer receive an economic stimulus over summer that the Chamber of Commerce estimated at being a $1 million boom. Both the city and University would also lose valuable publicity.

“The publicity the camp generated was good for the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, the city of River Falls and the St. Croix Valley,” Director of Media Relations Kevin Harter said. “And it isn’t the kind of publicity you can buy. Print and broadcast media came each summer to cover the Chiefs and in the process put the city and University on the map for their readers, listeners and viewers. National media, including HBO and Sports Illustrated, did the same, but on a much larger scale.”

But Harter said he is hopeful that the impact of the losing the Chiefs will not be too much for UWRF to overcome.

“There will be an economic impact, if indeed, they do leave, but at this point, the loss of publicity would not be significant,” Harter said. “UWRF is, and will remain, in the news for many good reasons.”

Halada added that she was proud of the level of facilities and services UWRF was able to provide to the Chiefs.

“Being one of the few schools to host an NFL team, and especially for as long as we’ve had this opportunity, is an honor,” Halada said.

Not everybody is sad to see the Chiefs leave, however. Amber Bloom was a custodial worker for two summers cleaning up after the Chiefs.

“Despite the popularity and money they brought to UWRF, I am glad to see them go,” Bloom said. “Even though I was a custodian and it was a given that I would be dealing with messes of various sorts, I do not think that any human being should have to dispose of urine-filled Gatorade bottles because one of the football players decided he was too lazy to walk down the hall.”

Bloom was one of the student workers employed the summer that HBO featured the Chiefs training camp at UWRF on their program “Hard Knock Life.”

“I recall specifically one of the players calling their summer camp at UWRF a prison,” Bloom said. “This seemed a little irrational to me because they had various crews on campus waiting on them hand and foot. Any custodial concern they had, whether it be new sheets or more towels, was taken care of immediately. The Chiefs were also provided extravagant meals prepared by our head cook, Angel, and were driven to the football field so that they didn’t sustain any injuries on the way there. Some prison.”

The Chiefs estimated departure after the 2009 summer is dependent on whether or not their new training facility is done in time for camp to open in 2010. If the new facility is not ready, the Chiefs may exercise their one-year extension option to return to UWRF for 2010. Either way, UWRF faces a future without the Chiefs, be it in one or two years.

“UWRF has been here for well over a 100 years,” Halada said. “This institution has a great story to tell, and we’ll continue to tell that story, with or without a professional football team.”