INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The trend across the NFL landscape seems to be one of limiting fan access when it comes to training camp, that three-week period when competition heightens and rosters are finalized.
The Philadelphia Eagles are taking it to the extreme. When they announced their training camp schedule earlier this week, the notable number was: one. That’s how many camp sessions will be open to the general public. That’s down from two the previous summer.
The Eagles routinely had open access for its fan base when they held training camp at Lehigh University, but that changed dramatically when they moved camp to their South Philly training facility in 2013. Access to Joe Fan was slashed to four in 2013, three in ’14 and two the last four summers.
We’re not here to bash the Eagles. They’ve done a pretty good job of smacking themselves around.
The point is: the Indianapolis Colts want nothing to do with falling in line with other teams in the league.
They return to Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield July 24 for their second summer of work, and all 16 sessions are open to the public. That’s been the Colts MO in every year but one. In 2017, incoming-GM Chris Ballard was unable to finalize a site and training camp was held at the team’s West 56th Street headquarters.
The Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center has a lot to offer, but it’s not conducive to holding open practices. Ballard made the best of a bad situation by holding an open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium and another at Warren Central High School.
He was contrite to his inherited and disappointed fan base.
“I love training camp when we are able to get away and our fans can get access to our players that they usually can’t get,’’ he said. “I apologize to our fans for not being able to do that this year. Hopefully going forward we’ll be able to correct that.’’
All-access prevailed when camp was held in Anderson and Terre Haute, and that returned last summer when the Colts partnered with Grand Park.
Using the AFC South for comparison purposes, Jacksonville is expected to have 10 camp practices open to its fan base and Houston maybe a half-dozen. Tennessee has yet to determine the degree of access.
Let’s get one thing straight: a team providing ample access to its fan base during training camp isn’t insignificant. It’s a major step in that team connecting with its fan base.
While that certainly includes season ticket holders, it’s almost more important to that large segment of the fan base that can’t afford to pony up for season tickets – they start at $350 per ticket – or what it costs to take the wife and kids to Lucas Oil Stadium for one game.
That’s why training camp – an open training camp – provides an ideal forum for connectivity between players and fans.
Initially, fans look on and cheer as Andrew Luck hits T.Y. Hilton on a deep post, or Darius Leonard flashes and contacts a running back or Adam Vinatieri knocks down a 50-yard field goal. A 10-year old can shout out a ‘Hey, T.Y.!’, and there’s a good chance Hilton will respond with a smile and wave.
Check out any post-practice in Anderson, Terre Haute or Westfield and players line the bleacher area. They stick around after a long practice and sign autographs and trade small talk.
You can’t put a PR price on that.
As long as Jim Irsay owns the team and Ballard runs it, all-access training camp will continue.
And be sure to catch the Colts Bluezone Podcast: