When the New York Giants released their 2019 training camp schedule a few days ago, I was gratified to see that the Giants aren’t yet going any further than they already have in limiting fan access to training camp.
I have been aware for years that training camp is not nearly as fan-friendly for followers of many teams as it was just a few years ago.
I was startled, though, when I read that the Philadelphia Eagles will hold only one — yes, ONE — public training camp practice. Even then, fans will have to pay with the money going to charity.
After the news about Eagles’ camp came out, Lindsay Jones of The Athletic [subscription required] wrote that the Eagles “have taken a bad trend and made it worse.”
We might be able to find NFL games on television three nights a week all fall, but the league remains largely inaccessible to most fans — except during training camp. This is the one time where fans can sit in the grass or bleachers and watch practice, while kids can slap high fives and pose for pictures with and get their jerseys autographed by their favorite players. In Cleveland, you can watch Baker Mayfield sling it, then adopt a puppy! In Minnesota, your kids can play in a bouncy house while you sample all sorts of fried delicacies from food trucks parked near the practice fields. In Green Bay, a Packer might even ride your child’s bike!
Jones also points out that the Eagles aren’t alone:
Limiting training camp access is becoming more common around the league as the majority of teams hold their camps at home practice facilities that often aren’t conducive to large crowds. In Seattle, fans must secure an online ticket that’s free, then purchase a $10 shuttle ticket for a ride from a nearby mall to the facility in Renton, which because of its location — sandwiched between Lake Washington and an interstate — has almost no parking.
Other teams have started limiting public access to camp because of the growing trend of holding joint practices with another team or two, which means more time away from home and more complicated logistics. The Patriots, whose camp practices in Foxborough are open and free, will leave Massachusetts for sessions in Detroit and Tennessee. The Bills will hold just eight open sessions on campus at St. John Fisher in Rochester, down from 21 open practices there in 2014, in part because of a mid-preseason trip to practice with the Panthers in South Carolina.
Meanwhile, according to a survey of The Athletic’s NFL beat writers, the majority of teams are increasingly catering to season-ticket holders and corporate sponsors during training camp, providing access and VIP experiences at otherwise closed practices.
Giants’ training camp isn’t what it used to be
As I said at the beginning, I was heartened to see that the Giants have scheduled those 10 public — and free — practices.
The Giants had nine public practices a year ago, and 11 in both 2016 and 2015. So, I’m glad to see the organization holding the line on that.
Still, while the Giants do the best they can with the environment they are working in, camp at the Giants’ practice facility in New Jersey doesn’t provide anything close to the fan experience provided when camp was held in Albany.
There, players had to walk through a rope line known as “Autograph Alley” before and after practice. Fans could see them up close, talk to them, get autographs, get a picture. No guarantee your favorite player would stop, but many Giants players stopped while making their way through the rope line after each practice.
In Albany, fans could spread a blanket and sit hillside for a picnic, or plop down on a folding chair. They could get within yards of many of the practice fields, separated only by a rope line or low wooden fence and a gaggle of media standing on the sidelines. They could come and go, move around, make a real morning or evening experience of it.
In New Jersey, fans are asked to get tickets (yes, free ones), then stand in a lengthy line in a hot parking lot to be allowed to sit in temporary metal bleachers or stand along the fence . They are behind a fence in a confined area without a whole lot of space to move around and a limited number of things to do. For many, the view is terrible.
Giants’ players enter and exit from the far side of the facility, away from where the fans are herded. A different position group signs autographs each day. So, the only chance you get to have Saquon Barkley sign something for you is to show up the one day during camp that running backs are signing.
There really isn’t much that is fan-friendly about the experience, at least as far as I can tell.
It’s kind of cool to see MetLife Stadium looming across the parking lot as the Giants practice. It is also problematic. The Giants have to close a couple of practices each year due to Stadium events like concerts. Taylor Swift and Beyonce take priority over fans attending practices. The Giants also close a couple of practices for invitation only events for sponsors or season ticket holders. With training camp being half of what it used to be without two-a-days, that doesn’t leave a lot for regular fans.
And that’s too bad.
Reality is, I get that training camp isn’t a party for NFL teams. It is an incredibly important few weeks, the most important of the year in terms of putting a team together. Established players are getting themselves ready. Young players and veterans trying to keep jobs are doing everything they can to impress coaches. The players are at work.
Their focus is — rightly — on their jobs. Not on the happiness of the fans. I also absolutely understand why the Giants practice at their own facility. They have everything they need there. Three full fields and a half field, a full-sized indoor bubble for rainy days, and the comfort of being in familiar surroundings. It makes perfect sense.
Still, I miss the days when fans could more or less mingle with players coming on and off the field.
Jones is right when she says this:
Too much of the NFL experience is exclusive. Teams must find a way to keep training camp the one inclusive space for the next generation of fans.
I’m just not sure how the league can make that happen. Or, sadly, if it even cares about trying.
Let’s be nostalgic
Ever been to a Giants training camp practice? Tell us about your experience. Send a note to email@example.com telling us about your training camp story, attach some photos, give us names and dates if you can. Before the Giants open this year’s camp, we will put together a post detailing some fan experiences from camp.
Let’s have some fun and share those memories.
Odell still taking shots at Giants
I know, I know. Some of you will criticize me for going here, but I have to. I need to comment on the things Odell Beckham Jr, said recently about the Giants. Besides, before you go ranting about Big Blue View using Beckham’s name for page views, check today’s date. It’s Sunday, June 23. Then, go Google Beckham’s name. This is our first comment on this, and a plethora of mainstream sites began writing about it on Friday. So, just save that narrative.
During an interview with Complex while in London to promote the NFL and his new sneaker, Beckham took a swipe at the New York Giants. Asked whether his trade to the Cleveland Browns would help him fulfill his potential, Beckham said:
“I can’t wait to get going. I just felt with the Giants I was just stuck at a place that wasn’t working for me anymore. I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to reach my full potential there; mentally, physically, spiritually, everything I felt capable of doing, I just couldn’t see it happening there. So I think allowing me to be in an environment where I can be myself and give it a different approach, I feel like my football will benefit. I’m just excited about being able to play football again and not have to deal with all the other stuff and politics that came with my previous role.
Beckham seems to be spinning a narrative that makes it seem like the move out of New York was something he wanted, rather than a decision made by the Giants organization.
“Stuck at a place that wasn’t working for me anymore.” Stuck? Really? No one forced Beckham to sign a five-year, $90 million deal in a place where he felt stuck. No one then forced him to go on ESPN with L’il Wayne and Josina Anderson, throw Eli Manning under the bus and question whether he really liked New York.
“Wasn’t going to be able to reach my full potential.” There are soooo many things I could say about this. Whatever issues Beckham had with the Giants were, in my view, self-inflicted. Beckham loved the fame and the celebrity, jet-setting lifestyle being in New York helped him achieve. He always seemed burdened by, and unwilling to adjust to, the added scrutiny that come with the lifestyle he obviously relishes.
That’s on him.
I hope Beckham does well in Cleveland. I hope he’s happy there. I really do. I just wish he’d stop talking about the Giants, and stop blaming them for things he brought upon himself.
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