GLENDALE, Ariz. – Cardinals president Michael Bidwill finally dropped the news that everyone has been expecting on Tuesday. For the first time since moving to Arizona in 1988, the Cardinals will hold their training camp in the Valley.
Dates for the camp were not available, and Bidwill provided few details at an unannounced media availability before Tuesday’s Fan Fest at University of Phoenix Stadium, but he did formally announce what everyone already knew: The team would be using its home field for all practices that will be open to the public.
“Other than that, we’re still working on everything else regarding training camp,” Bidwill told reporters in attendance.
The team had held camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff every year but one (Prescott), but Bidwill said the team was not able to work out an agreement with NAU to continue that tradition – one many believe is the team’s greatest and only tradition since moving to the Valley.
“Fans need to understand we tried to make the best decision competitively for the team. The facilities that NAU had moved us into over the last couple of years were completely substandard for a professional football team, and we were paying big rent up there,” Bidwill said.
“I hope the business community understands that it was a few people at NAU that really made this decision easy for us. I was not going to let the team be at a competitive disadvantage by continuing to use those facilities.”
It was too late to contact NAU officials for their opinion on Bidwill’s comments Tuesday, but officials at the school have previously said they made a fair offer to keep the team.
The Cardinals used three practice fields on NAU’s campus, as well as the Walkup Skydome in the event of rain. But their training staff, strength and conditioning program and equipment operations were relegated to spaces that often drew complaints. That clearly won’t be an issue at the team’s home stadium.
As for other logistics, Cardinals players and staff could be housed in a hotel near the stadium during camp, which begins in late July, but Allan Tuttle, the director of sales at the Renaissance Glendale, which is adjacent to Jobing.com Arena, said negotiations are ongoing with the team.
With only one field at University of Phoenix Stadium during the hot summer months, there remains the possibility that the Cardinals could also use Arizona State’s Verde Dickey Dome. The team is already scheduled to practice there on Aug. 1 when a soccer match between Real Madrid and the Los Angeles Galaxy is scheduled for the stadium.
The Cardinals are building an indoor facility at their Tempe headquarters, but that is not likely to be completed in time for camp. In addition, the team doesn’t want to train at its Tempe facility because fans would not be allowed to attend.
The idea of training in Glendale has been in the works for about a year, and Bidwill noted that 20 of 32 NFL teams hold training camp at home “so this is not something that’s new or different.”
But the team and the City of Glendale are still in negotiations over a long-term agreement.
The main hang-up is the use of the city’s youth soccer fields at Bethany Home Road and 91st Avenue, near University of Phoenix Stadium. The city has managed the fields through its parks and recreation department since Feb. 1, 2012, at a cost of about $280,000 annually. But Glendale councilmember Gary Sherwood noted that the city has taken in between $80,000 and $85,000 in revenue from the fields, which lease for $25 to $33 an hour.
Under the proposed deal, the Cardinals would hire Rojo Entertainent Management to take over the management of the fields, with the city paying Rojo about $280,000 annually. But in this deal, Rojo would keep the first $150,000 in revenue. Rojo and the city would then split any additional revenue, with Rojo receiving 80 percent and the city receiving 20 percent of it.
Based on previous years’ figures, Sherwood is not sure there would be any additional revenue to split, although he expects that Rojo would promote the fields a bit more than Glendale has.
“It’s a worse deal than the one we have right now. We lose money. I have no idea why we would agree to it,” Sherwood said, noting the city’s well-chronicled budget issues. “They still want to make money off of us, and we can’t do that.”
Even if that deal is not struck, Bidwill still sees positives in training at the stadium.
“There’s 4.3 million who live here in the Valley, and not all of those people can afford to take the time off or to drive up (to Flagstaff) and spend the night,” he said. “It’s free, it’s free parking. It’s air-conditioned. Be able to catch a practice in the afternoon and not have to drive out of town.”