TOURISTS TAKE PASS ON NFL CAMPS

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The closest thing football has to a Grapefruit League or Cactus League is the "Cheese League."

And that about explains the comparative tourist appeal of football's and baseball's preseason training regimens. While Major League Baseball concentrates its activity in Florida and Arizona, attracting the winter-weary, the National Football League sees its teams scatter all over the country for their late-summer training camps. It's rare to have more than one of the 30 teams hold camp in the same state.

Except in Wisconsin, home of the unofficially titled Cheese League, composed of five teams-the Chicago Bears (in Platte-ville), Green Bay Packers (De Pere), Kansas City Chiefs (River Falls), New Orleans Saints (La Crosse) and the new Jacksonville Jaguars (Stevens Point).

These teams don't necessarily play each other during the exhibition rounds, but they still bring money into the area. Wisconsin tourism officials estimate the Cheese League camps are worth at least $6 million annually for the state's coffers. This year, they figure that the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars will generate more than $1 million in economic activity in Stevens Point.

The far-flung NFL camps don't have the extensive schedule of practice games that baseball has, and some of the teams, like the Oakland Raiders, even close their practices to the public, so they aren't as well-attended as spring training. Those tourists who do attend usually turn out to be loyal fans and season ticket holders from their home cities and are only there for the day.

The NFL can't come close to the $300 million economic impact state officials say spring training has in Florida. And the NFL doesn't do much to help that situation except sit back and wait for the media.

"We promote the opening of training camps, but no formal marketing effort is done," said Greg Aiello, NFL director of communications. "A lot of our promotion is media coverage of the NFL."

Because NFL camps are located all over the country, league officials contend it's prohibitive to attend more than one a year.

Many of the teams have camps within a few hours' drive of their hometowns, making overnight trips by fans unnecessary.

"It's not like they come to town, go to dinner and stay in a hotel for three or four days," said Rick Vaughn, public relations director for the Washington Redskins, whose training camp site at Frostburg State College in Frostburg, Md., is only 135 miles from D.C.

The Houston Oilers travel just to nearby San Antonio. But the team's presence still helps, said Sharon Eason, director of visitors marketing for the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"Houston has always been a good leisure market for San Antonio," she said. "Having the Oilers here gives them another reason to visit us."

Ms. Eason said she figures the 1,000 people a day who attend the practices at Trinity University are a mix of local fans and visitors.

The NFL's top teams are, not surprisingly, big draws. At the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers' camp in Rocklin, Calif., PR officials say campers and RVs sporting license plates from Nevada and other bordering states are scattered in the parking lots of Sierra Junior College. A busload of Japanese tourists visited the camp during the first week.

But because Rockland is only 2 hours from San Francisco, many of the 3,000 who attend daily workouts live in the Bay area.

At the Dallas Cowboys' camp at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, fans form an "Autograph Alley," pens in hand, waiting for the likes of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.

"The Cowboys are very user friendly," said Karen Jordan, executive director of the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau. "They are very important to our many tourism attractions here."

Ms. Jordan said the bureau doesn't canvass visitors about why they come to town. But one measure of the team's impact can be seen in the admissions office at St. Edward's. She said: "Since the team has been here, the college has seen a huge increase in its applications pool."

Ms. Jordan, who estimates the Cowboys are responsible for about $3 million spent by tourists in Austin, said next year the bureau plans to do some marketing, specifically in Mexico, to attract more visitors to Austin for training camp.

One of several teams that stayed home-albeit a new home-is the St. Louis Rams, just relocated from Los Angeles.

The Rams averaged 1,700 a day at Maryville College in St. Louis County, said Tony Wyllie, assistant PR director for the team.

"We had one person here from California," Mr. Wyllie said. "He said he was here out of sheer loyalty." NFL training camps don't make near the economic impact as their baseball counterparts, mainly because of their geographically scattered nature and their proximity to most teams' hometowns-like the Dallas Cowboys' camp at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.

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