The Georgetown Scott County Tourism office typically gets calls in June about the Cincinnati Bengals’ training camp at Georgetown College. This year, callers have one question. “We have already gotten calls from people asking about camp and the status,” said John Simpson, director of the tourism commission. “I can’t answer their questions. Right now, we can just tell them the tentative dates.” As more days pass with the NFL lockout still in place, it is becoming more difficult to stay positive. Simpson says he has already heard some nervousness from local business owners that the NFL team and its fans may not travel to Georgetown this summer.
“It is certainly something no one wants to see happen, but we have no say in the manner,” said Simpson. “I have heard some concern from local people, but not an overwhelming concern. I think people would like to see it happen. Any time you take something away that adds to your community, it is going to have an impact.”
Georgetown is not alone in the waiting game. Fifteen NFL teams hold their training camps off site and players, coaches and reporters head to small-college towns for 2½ weeks of practices, scrimmages and fan fare.
Some training camp cities have announced they expect to lose $5 million or more that typically is plugged in to the economy by football fans at local restaurants, gas stations, hotels and retail shops.
It’s difficult to say how much Scott County stands to lose if the NFL lockout continues into July. Neither the city of Georgetown nor the tourism commission has commissioned a study to examine the Bengals’ financial impact to Georgetown.
The team has held its training camp at Georgetown College since 1997.
“I can only tell you that when the fans are here,” said Simpson, “some stay in our hotels, some eat at our restaurants, others buy gas and shop at our retail stores.”
The bulk of fans come from Ohio and northern Kentucky, said Simpson.
Additionally, there is local support for the team.
Georgetown’s Winner’s Choice Hotel workers say they see some fans stopping for an overnight stay.
“It’s not a huge crowd for us,” said Melissa Herrington, a hotel employee. “If they aren’t wearing Bengals shirts, we don’t really know unless they tell us what they are here for.”
Of those fans who do book an overnight stay, Herrington said, many do it shortly before their arrival.
At Georgetown’s Microtel Inn, it’s a similar story, said front desk clerk Madaline Ingram.
“We don’t get a lot of them,” said Ingram. “We have more people for the horse shows at the Kentucky Horse Park. We do have a few regulars.
“We have a woman who comes for the whole two weeks and she wears something Bengals every day. I haven’t heard from her this year.”
If there is no camp, Georgetown will lose national and regional media exposure. Each training camp has brought reporters and cameras from the Cincinnati area and national media groups.
“You see datelines across the country with Georgetown, Kentucky, listed,” said Simpson. “It definitely has an impact on us in terms of publicity.”
NFL owners are set to gather Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago to discuss negotiations with NFL Players Association representatives. Georgetown College officials have said the Bengals have until July 15 to inform the private college about whether it should expect the team to arrive July 28.
Local businesses may stand to lose and the community may not see Georgetown listed in newspaper articles, but another group also will suffer: football fans.
“The players make themselves accessible, stop and visit with the fans,” said Simpson. “That’s exciting. Some of these guys are heroes for kids and adults, for that manner. It is a chance to meet a professional athlete, and you might never get that chance anywhere else.”