This is the fifth in a series of posts by Chaz Bolte highlighting the economic impact of the NFL lockout on some of the NFL’s Training Camp Towns.
“I think everyone needs to get their big-boy pants on, swallow their pride and get this done,” said Kelly Oswald, manager of Starter’s Pub near Lehigh University. His words echo those of many in the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania area who are starting to wonder if their beloved Philadelphia Eagles — and, perhaps more notably, the 20,000 to 30,000 fans they bring to the area — will be coming back to town this summer. Eagles training camp is a point of pride in the community.
In an interview with WPVI-TV, Philadelphia Bethlehem’s Mayor John Callahan said, “Getting daily reports on Eagles training camp in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and all of the various media outlets that use Bethlehem as a byline is the kind of exposures that any community would love.”
Like other NFL teams that host their training camps on rural college campuses, the Eagles will run in to a logistics problem in that the team must be off campus by August 17th in order for preparations to begin. Students will be returning for the Fall semester. Even if the lockout ended today there would need to be a free agent/trade period which would have to be a minimum of two weeks. This does not allow the Eagles or any other franchise time enough to hold a meaningful training camp unless it is held at their private practice facilities. It’s a tradition that will be missed in Bethlehem, no doubt.
Fans will still sit around at local establishments like Starter’s Pub. They’ll debate the merits of trading Kevin Kolb. There will just be a few more empty seats.
The overall vibe I’ve gotten while writing this series of articles is that the people in these small towns, the true fans, aren’t all that concerned with what will happen to them financially. They will simply miss being a fan.
“People do get excited and they do ask, every year. They get excited they anticipate them coming in,” Oswald said. “It is a pretty big thing for us and the area.”
Although only an hour away from each other, Philadelphia and Bethlehem are studies in contrast. The people of Philadelphia don’t really care if the pre-season happens at all: they’re waiting to don greenman costumes and pound beers in the Lincoln Financial Field parking lot before the season opener. The people of Bethlehem will be watching that game also; they may even drink a couple of beers; but, for Bethlehem, the pre-season is their season, the one time of year when they have an NFL team in their town all their own, when they get to rub elbows with the guys they watch every Sunday, even if only for a month.