In some ways maybe East Rutherford and Florham Park, New Jersey don’t compare all that well to the pristine college campuses in Albany and Cortland, but for Jets and Giants fans one of the positive pieces of the lockout will suit them just fine. Instead of the quiet getaway for training camp, the teams will stay at home when practices begin this weekend (Giants Saturday, Jets Sunday), giving more fans the opportunity to come out and fill the bleachers which will line the teams new practice facilities. It is the first time that the two facilities will be open to the public during training camp, a rare peek inside for fans that could never make the trek to Albany or Cortland during the summer.
Now for the Jets, a home training camp is not all that unusual. For years fans flocked to Hofstra University, where the team trained year round, to see workouts, and that helped actually grow the teams Long Island fan base. Since the move of facilities to New Jersey, few fans have been able to see the pristine, state of the art facility the team has built and uses during the rest of the year, so the added time will be a great benefit. The Giants have moved training camp around for years…Pace, Monmouth, FDU-Madison were some of the stops before settling on SUNY-Albany. Their opening of the Timex Center was also off limits to fans, who will get a look at the new facility a little closer than the New Jersey Turnpike for their first time as well.
Now the move back to home facilities is more the rule than the exception in this lockout shortened preseason. Teams from the Steelers to the Ravens have abandoned the annual trek to college campuses and elected to save time and money by staying home this year, and that move could signal a change for future years as well, as teams continue to build larger and more diverse training facilities year after year. While that is a great loss to the economy of towns that welcomed NFL training camps in past years, it could be a boon to local businesses around East Rutherford and Florham Park, as thousands will look for lunch spots, drinks and other activities around the open Jets and Giants practices. The added time will also get some additional exposure for the teams’ title sponsors…Timex and Atlantic Health… who will get their logo and name splashed across all kinds of media exposure during a preseason that usually included only Cortland or Albany in past years.
Now there are some downsides for the teams. Added distractions being so close to home, the fact that the facilities were not originally built to hold thousands of fans (the Giants have had to bring in bleachers to line the field adjacent to a parking lot for example) as well as added police time and traffic, especially for the good people of Florham Park.
However the positives for fan growth, additional new local sponsors and good will coming off the lockout will outweigh the negatives for both the Green and White and Big Blue. In a summer of continued staycations and alternative local planning, the lockout may have produced the best free gift for football fans…the chance to see the formation of their local squads up close, without spending big bucks on travel or PSL’s.