The Washington Redskins are moving their training camp.
Yes, on July 25, the Redskins will begin their 2013 camp at the new state-of-the-art Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, VA. This move, while on the surface a seemingly mundane topic, is loaded with layers of intrigue.
Over the last 10 seasons, the Redskins have held training camp at team headquarters in Ashburn, VA. Previously, the team had stints in Frostburg, MD, and Carlisle, PA. Although never a major topic of discussion, the fact the team didn’t “go away,” for training camp was often cited as a potential factor in the dysfunction that characterized the team.
Nevertheless, go away the team will next month, and you can be certain the P.R./marketing machine that is the Redskins will be out in full force.
We’ll hear the typical diatribe about how wonderful Richmond is, how welcoming the local community has been, and how the team chemistry is better than ever. We’ll no doubt see Redskins players and coaches smiling away as the cameras roll at local community centers. Surely, some local media outlet will publish a study reporting the positive effects the Redskins coming to Richmond had on the local economy.
And while I imagine the D.C based media will moan about the inconvenience and miserable traffic on 95-South for three weeks this summer, all will seem right for the Burgundy and Gold.
But let’s get something straight: this move isn’t about team some sort of Kumbaya team bonding, or the Redskins suddenly reconsidering their role as civic ambassadors. No, the move to Richmond is about marketing the franchise and engaging a fan demographic that has slightly, albeit not radically, changed in the last decade — specifically, a fan base that has shifted geographically.
Remember, when the plan was first hatched for the Redskins to move from RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. to Prince George’s County, Maryland in the early-mid 1990s, the landscape was incredibly different. There were no Baltimore Ravens. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who dominated during the 1970s, fell on hard times in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Philadelphia Eagles were something of an afterthought to the Redskins, New York Giants, and Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.
And keep in mind, from 1982-1991, the Redskins and Giants combined to win five Super Bowls. Plus, there was no team in the Carolinas until 1995.
In short, the Redskins had something of a geographical monopoly as the undisputed premier franchise in the Mid-Atlantic. Their fan base encompassed Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, parts of Pennsylvania where they held training camp, and even stretched into the Carolinas. An example of this would be NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who grew up in North Carolina and to this day remains a huge Redskins fan.
But a lot has changed in the last two decades. The Redskins fell from grace, while the Ravens arrived in Maryland and began winning Super Bowls. Ditto for the Steelers, who have returned to prominence. While the Eagles and Carolina Panthers haven’t won Super Bowls, each team has been to the Super Bowl and won division titles.
Suddenly, the Redskins don’t have the rule of the roost as they once did.
That being said, Virginia remains essentially Redskins country. The team headquarters are in Ashburn, and the majority of players and coaches live in Loudon County. Further, numerous retired Redskin players still live near team headquarters and remain active locally. Also, the population of Northern Virginia has grown significantly in the last decade.
Further, the Redskins are at some point going to move out of the uninspiring, poorly located, should-have-never-been-built Fed Ex Field. Granted, this could be a decade or more away. However, when it does happen, it won’t be another site in Maryland. Also, team owner Daniel Snyder has, like Jack Kent Cooke before him, witnessed the pitfalls of dealing with the incompetent D.C. government.
This leaves Virginia, and considering the explosion in population and the team’s significant following, one has to imagine the the move to Richmond is as much about the Redskins looking to solidify their fan base there.
At the very least, it is as much that as anything else.