After over a month, the Eagles have finally offered an explanation as to why they will have just one open training camp practice at Lincoln Financial Field this summer.
Back on June 19, the team announced the one open practice will be on Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. and tickets were $10, with the proceeds going to the Eagles Autism Challenge. The Eagles announced this change from two practices down to one after tickets were already on sale and since that press release, they've been silent on the topic … until this morning.
Eagles president Don Smolenski was on the 94WIP morning show with Angelo Cataldi on Tuesday.
Here's part of the Q&A with Smolenski, in which he offers an explanation:
Cataldi: Could you tell us why you went down to just the one (practice) this year?
Smolenski: I think when we moved training camp from Lehigh to the NovaCare Complex, I think there's a lot of things you're trying to balance. We're trying to do what's best for the football team first. That's probably 1a. And obviously the fans are, like, 1b or 1a1, however you want to do it. We also have to manage the neighbors because, in reality, per our lease, we're not allowed to have training camp at NovaCare. We're able to have training camp at NovaCare because of the really great relationship we have with our really great neighbors, who we've worked with ever since we opened NovaCare and opened Lincoln Financial Field, that they knew what was good for the team and they were very supportive. We had to had some compromises. And that compromise, if you will, is that we can bring only so many people into NovaCare to watch. That led us to have the public practices at Lincoln Financial Field.
When we first did that and not really having any experience and only really having Lehigh as a reference point, we started with five. And over five, the attendance levels dropped at each, as we went to No. 4, to No. 5 and so the next year we went down to three and then to two and this year we are going to one. But what we found is last year, 120,000 tickets were reserved for the two practices and of those 120,000 only 10,000 were actually reserved for both days and only 2,500 people actually came to both days. And actually 3,500 came to none and 5,000 came to one. So, really, what that was showing to us was we can do this is one practice and we can schedule the time.
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We're also juggling, tonight we have the Rolling Stones concert, so the field is going to be torn up, the field is going to be re-sodded and so it kind of ruled out this first weekend. But we also found that if we have a practice after our first preseason game, attendance also dropped. Trying to balance all of those factors led us to that Sunday night, the one practice. We can accommodate 70,000, we're already over 23,000 with still two weeks to go, which is great. And we'll be able to fit everybody. I think this is an adjustment and I think people are reacting to this adjustment - totally understandable. But I think it's going to be a great experience, hopefully with a vibrant energy at Lincoln Financial Field.
Cataldi: It's going to be Sunday, Aug. 4 at the Linc and tickets are available. They are $10 this year. Proceeds benefitting the Eagles Autism Challenge at PhiladelphiaEagles.com/trainingcamp. What was the thinking behind the $10 donation this year?
Smolenski: I think part of it was tied to our efforts and to demonstrate our commitment to raising funds to turn awareness into action in the autism space. I think, much like you experienced with Wing Bowl, is really that we can have a good fan experience. We want people to be there to support the team and having this donation sort of has people vested, so if the weather is questionable, that they'll still continue to come and support the team because it allows us to plan for who's coming. Much like I think you experienced with the success you had with Wing Bowl, that you needed to know your number so you could manage the things you had to manage on the logistical side.
Cataldi: If you saw a sudden new surge of demand for this practice this year, would you reconsider where you are with that in future years?
Smolenski: I think that's the nice thing with the schedule. It allows us to have the flexibility to have more than one if that warrants it. Coach is very supportive so he will adjust his schedule to accommodate what's best for the organization. I totally think we have flexibility in the future.
My take: It's a well-thought out explanation from Smolenski, but he did have a month to formulate it. Aside from the merits of going down to one practice and then charging for it, a little transparency from the organization would have been nice. The simultaneous announcement and sale of tickets wasn't ideal.
I'm not sure I quite understand Smolenski's point about how few folks attended both practices. I never thought the idea was for fans to be able to attend each practice, but having more than one day simply allows fans options. This year, if you're busy on Aug. 4, sorry, you're out of luck.
I do understand Smolenski's point about how charging for tickets makes people more likely to show up because they're invested. Last year, when tickets were free, there was no penalty to reserving them and not going to the practice. Plenty of seats sat empty. So, sure, that can make things tough from a logistical standpoint. But I'm just not going to be on board with charging for a practice. I think there are other ways to raise money for what is a very worthwhile cause. And if the logistics aren't perfect, they're not perfect.
It's at least encouraging that the team seems willing to adjust its thinking if they see a demand for more practices, but I'm not sure how that would manifest. If a bunch of people show up at this open practice and more want in, would the organization see that as a sign they need more practices or would it simply consider the single open practice a success?
ProFootballTalk tracked the number of open practices per team this summer and only the Raiders (0) have fewer than the Eagles (1). The next closest teams are the Jets and Texans with 5. The average number of open practices, based on the PFT stats, is 10.3.
I appreciate the explanation from the team and some of it is totally valid, but if all those other teams can figure it out, the Eagles should be able to as well.
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