Now that the New Orleans Saints have ended training camp at The Greenbrier, three universities are in talks with the resort to host spring practice and exhibition games next spring.
West Virginia University, Marshall University and Virginia Tech all are expected to take advantage of the new, state-of-the-art facility in White Sulphur Springs. Kevin Workman, facility manager at the Advocare Performance Center, said the resort expects spring practice will draw sports fans from across the region, especially alumni.
“I think there is a trend in college sports to get out into different areas of your fan base,” Workman said. “WVU was in Charleston last year. I don’t know about other programs. I do think there is some interest in fundraising events around that spring event at The Greenbrier.”
Workman said each team will have a weekend set aside in April for practice and exhibition, as well as fundraising and activities for fans.
Mike Hamrick, athletic director at Marshall, said his program is looking forward to taking advantage of the facility, which boasts three practice fields, weight rooms, locker rooms and meeting rooms, among other features.
“It’s a great facility and to be able to tell recruits or your players we’re going to go . . . utilize an NFL facility where an NFL team holds their camps, that’s very positive,” Hamrick said. “Also, you’re at The Greenbrier, which means your fans and your donors and your supporters will come, and there are many things to do other than just watch a team scrimmage and practice. You can take advantage of that.”
Jim Justice, a coal baron who purchased The Greenbrier several years ago, is a Marshall graduate. A bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year allowed Justice and The Greenbrier to take advantage of tax breaks to build the training camp. House Bill 4184 is an extension of the Tourism Development Act, which first passed about a decade ago. But Justice had to meet several criteria to receive the tax breaks.
At least 25 percent of visitors to the training camp must come from out of state, the project must bring in sufficient revenues and public demand, and the investment must also create jobs and address economic issues in the area. If those criteria, and others, are met, the investment could be approved for tax credits up to 25 percent of approved costs over 10 years.
Workman said it’s too soon to tell if the training camp met those guidelines, but The Greenbrier and the Saints organization are touting the team’s three weeks in West Virginia as a success.
“I’m not privy to any of the finances for The Greenbrier itself, but I do know in talking to Mr. Justice that the Saints’ visit has been a success in every way imaginable,” Workman said. “It’s been great PR for the whole state and community. It’s been all over the major sports networks. It’s been well received by the Saints organization. I know that the downtown merchants I’ve talked to have been overwhelmed and quite pleased with the increase in activity in the community. I think the community has seen a great uptick in activity associated with Saints fans over the three weeks. From the hotel’s perspective, it’s a busy time for us anyway.
“The visibility and market and exposure it’s provided for The Greenbrier itself has been quite positive.”
The Saints are contractually obligated to host part of their summer training camp at The Greenbrier, but according to the Times-Picayune, head coach Sean Payton would like to see that timeline extended.
“It’s written (in the contract) for the next two years, but we’d like to be back here a lot longer than just that,” Payton said in an Aug. 14 article.
Hamrick said he attended part of the Saints training camp and was impressed with the facility. He said there are “a lot of advantages” to taking his team to Greenbrier County for camp, even though Marshall is preparing to open a new indoor practice facility for a variety of sports.
“There are a lot of pluses for us to go there,” Hamrick said. “We have great facilities here too when our new indoor (practice facility) opens up. It’s variety and something different.”
Although Marshall typically doesn’t travel off campus for spring training, Hamrick said he’s not worried about logistics. His team and staff travel often and The Greenbrier camp has everything the team could need.
“The logistics are easy,” he said. “We’re used to traveling. Our kids are used to getting on buses and we fly places. The logistics will not be an issue. If you’ve seen the facility there, it has everything you need — three fields, a training room. All you have to do is get on a bus and go there. The logistics do not concern me.”
Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.