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Chiefs’ summer training camp no longer at UWRF

March 5, 2010

It is now official that the Kansas City Chiefs will not be returning to River Falls in 2010 after 19 years of holding summer training camp at UW-River Falls. The impact of the team’s move is already being felt at UWRF, campus officials said, but it may not be fully understood area-wide for several years.

“It was finalized at the end of January that [the Chiefs] won’t be back,” Larry Testa said.

Testa worked as the sole UWRF campus liaison for the Kansas City Chiefs for five years. Testa said he was in direct connection with the Chiefs UWRF contact to communicate any needs or concerns either side had during their relationship.

“We had one voice on campus in contact with the Chiefs in order to lessen the chance for confusion between us,” he said.

Despite the fact that the Chiefs won’t be returning this upcoming summer, Testa said the team’s decision to move was a financial one that had little to do with UWRF.

“If you talk to [the Chiefs], it’s not so much that they wanted to leave, but they couldn’t afford not to,” he said. “The state of Missouri offered the team huge tax breaks to relocate.

The Chiefs training camp will now be held at Missouri Western State University in St. Joe’s, Missouri.

Testa said the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints left UW-Platteville and UW-Lacrosse respectively, for similar reason. The Saints held their training camp in La Crosse from 1988 to 1999, while the Bears visited Platteville every summer from 1984 to 2000. During the time these teams practiced in Wisconsin, the Chiefs were in River Falls and the Green Bay Packers held camp at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. The Packers are the only team still holding its training camp in the state. Wisconsin’s popularity among NFL teams was primarily because of its welcome summer weather in comparison to the teams’ home states, UWRF Athletic Director Rick Bowen said.

“If you’ve ever been to Missouri in July, you know how humid it is,” he said.

Bowen said he’s disappointed to see the team leave, but UWRF athletics will profit from the Chiefs’ presence for years to come.

“Three years ago, in order to keep the Chiefs, we rebuilt the locker rooms,” Bowen said. “The football and men’s and women’s hockey teams benefit from NFL caliber locker rooms and training facility.”

UWRF head football coach John O’Grady said in an e-mail interview that the Chiefs left behind equipment his team will continue to use.

“We still have hundreds of pairs of pants that we can use as practice pants that have been left behind,” he said. “This will save us thousands of dollars in our budget. We also inherited shoulder pads, game balls and many shoes that again saved our budget a lot of money over time.”

Testa said the Chiefs didn’t supply a great deal of money for the University, but benefited UWRF and its students in other ways.

“The Chiefs paid for everything they got,” he said. “We did cover all our expenses and get some additional revenue, but we’ll really miss the student jobs that just won’t happen now.”

Students were hired every summer to get housing and food service prepared, as well as to work in conjunction with the Chiefs in the Hunt and Knowles complex. Testa said 25 to 30 students were hired every year specifically to meet the Chiefs’ needs.

Testa said many of his responsibilities also left with the team.

“I’m working part-time now,” he said. “My job was basically halved.”

Fully maintaining the practice fields at the Ramer Field complex is something the university will now have to cover Testa said. The Chiefs had covered the majority of the maintenance since they began training camp at UWRF in 1991.

“I was the women’s soccer coach [at UWRF] in ‘94 and ‘95 and we never played on a field better than ours,” Testa said. “It’ll be an additional expense for the university to maintain during the summertime.”

O’Grady said the spent upwards of $40,000 on the fields every year and Chiefs took control of the upkeep in May, long before camp began.

“Most of that money was devoted to seeding and manicuring the fields,” he said. We simply cannot come up with that kind of money.

“Those fields were off limits for the entire spring and summer. This will no longer be the case. We will now have spring practice out there and we will have at least one summer camp there. This will also affect the fields.”

River Falls City Administrator Scot Simpson said River Falls may not feel the Chiefs absence this year, because people will be drawn to the city for another reason.

“This summer is will be unique because the Farm Technology Days will be here in July,” he said.

Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, which drew 80,000 people when it was held in Dodge County near Madison last year, will be held south of town on the farm owned by Roger and Bev Peterson, July 20-22, according to the event’s Web site.

River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau CEO Rosanne Bump said even though the chamber is very excited about the upcoming farm expo, it has been working with a marketing firm to better advertise the area’s attractions.

“We’ve been working quite aggressively on a new tourism initiative so that we can draw visitors long term,” she said. “We’re also working on a new Web site that will be more comprehensive and allow us to have more specific tourism packages.”

Bump said she expects the Web site to be finished within several months.

If the Chamber of Commerce is going to successfully offset the loss in tourism dollars caused by the Chiefs departure, a study done in 2003 by the UW Extension Survey Research Center shows that it will have to draw a significant amount of people and money to the area year after year. The study states that the Chiefs presence in River Falls brought nearly 9,100 people to the St. Croix valley that spent in excess of $700,000 in 2003 alone. The team also spent over $400,000 on goods and services that were not figured in to the $700,000, according to the report.

For the businesses who will have to make up that money, Gabe Scalzo, manager of Coach’s Bar and Grill in downtown River Falls, said future summers hold plenty of unknowns.

“There’s not a whole lot we can do right now,” he said. “We might have to change our specials to draw a bigger crowd, but we really just have to wait and see and ride it out.”