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Saints score for Jackson

JACKSON — A dedicated team rallied several months ago to persuade the New Orleans Saints to hold their summer training camp in the capital city. Several cities and sites vied for the opportunity won by Millsaps College. But, before the Saints could hit the field last week, numerous site visits occurred along with a thorough logistical analysis and development of a strategy to make everything work.

Catching the NFL in action is excitement enough for many residents. The public can watch 27 workouts during the team’s month-long visit from July 27 — August 27. But, area economic developers and business leaders are betting that all of the fun will translate into a financial win — a win that improves the city’s image and local residents’ quality of life.

Financial and other benefits
Hosting this NFL team in our backyard isn’t all about punting the pigskin. Plenty of greenbacks will
work their way through Jackson’s economy every summer of the four-year contract. The Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates an annual economic impact of $1.2 million for Jackson — based strictly on the players and coaching staff. That figure does not include the pre-season game against the Indianapolis Colts on August 26, sponsored by BankPlus, and will rise when other factors are taken into account.

“Jackson will host the players’ families, friends and fans who will need overnight accommodations, eat in local restaurants, shop our retail establishments and visit our local attractions,” explains Mara Hartmann, manager of communications and public relations for the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional lodging revenue will be raised during the final days of camp when the players move into a local hotel so the dorms can be readied for the fall semester. That activity means more support for local jobs, too.

A broader focus
Hurricane Katrina has forced the Saints to reposition themselves. “It will be necessary now for us to be a regional team. This is a major start in that direction. We are no longer the New Orleans Saints. We are the Louisiana Saints and the Mississippi Saints,” expressed Tom Benson, owner of the Saints, at a recent news conference announcing the Millsaps location.

Saints officials selected Jackson from numerous competitors citing the city’s strong fan base and other factors. “A great deal of time and energy was invested by numerous cities in the gulf south region. But, the health of the region, our Saints fans and the regions’ rebuilding efforts were in the forefront of our minds in making this decision. Jackson, and Millsaps College, have done an incredible job in preparation for an excellent Saints’ training camp,” stated Rita Benson LeBlanc, team owner and executive vice president of administration, during the June news conference.

A win for Millsaps and Jackson

Millsaps officials decided to pursue the partnership after several meetings with team officials. “After spending a lot of time touring members of the New Orleans Saints around campus and getting a good sense of what their needs were, we were able to determine that we could host the camp and host it well. We were then able to reach an agreement which both the Saints and Millsaps could support,” states Todd Rose, Millsaps vice-president for campus services.

Elisa Piazza, convention sales manager for the Jackson CVB, accompanied team officials on city tours emphasizing area hotels, sports medicine facilities, lodging, restaurants and attractions. “We went on about 10 site visits, touring hotels, walking Millsaps’ fields and classrooms at least 10 times, and trying to determine the team’s classroom needs,” Piazza states.

The team’s food requirements will also infuse the local economy. Where do you find enough food to satiate the hunger of an entire football team? Local suppliers can fill that order. “We met with Valley Foods to determine the Saint’s food and beverage needs — they ordered 21 cases of steaks for one meal!” says Piazza.

The metro area will also receive other benefits that are difficult to measure. For instance, “the Saints will bring youth football events for both boys and girls, thrilling contact with NFL heroes and a southern match-up on August 26 between our favorite homegrown heroes,” explained LeBlanc.
Rose denies that the college paid a fee to the Saints to win the bid. “Preseason training camps bring people to the area from all over. The college believes this is one of the many ways we can do something that directly contributes to our community and state,” Rose continues.

Rose also cites the heightened awareness that the campus will enjoy as a contributing factor in pursuing the camp. “There will be some obvious benefit to the college through the national media exposure and the increased traffic on campus. People see the Saints practice and get to support the team. They will get to see Mississippians Deuce McAllister and Fred McAfee play, and get the first peak at Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. In addition, they get to see the campus and facilities of a top ranked liberal arts college — the best in the region,” Rose continues.

Other entities will use the increased media attention to benefit the area, too. According to Hartmann, seven or eight satellite trucks pulled into Jackson on the day players reported to camp and she “ … expects Jackson to be featured all over ESPN, the major networks, all the sports channels … the coverage will be worldwide and is a priceless opportunity for us to educate viewers and positively showcase our city.”
In an ironic twist, publicity from the training camp, in Jackson partly due to Katrina, will help dispel the misconception that Jackson is still shut down due to the hurricane. Hartmann explains, “Even though it’s been nearly a year since Hurricane Katrina hit, there are some people who think our state is shut down. With the publicity the Saints will bring, we can get the word out that we’re open for business, and open for fun!”


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