A Wednesday headline and article, “Colts fans enjoy AU campus but spend little time, money in city,” drew criticism from Anderson boosters who worried that the story cast a negative light on the community.
The critics pointed out that the reporter who wrote the article talked to only a small percentage of people (he interviewed about 10) attending that day’s Indianapolis Colts training camp practice at Anderson University. That is true, and the article was in no way a scientific sampling of the practice attendees.
Still, in an anecdotal fashion, the responses are valid. In short, the selected fans said they basically get in and out of Anderson as fast as they can. They come to see the Colts practice and, while they like AU’s campus, they don’t see much else appealing about Anderson.
Those of us who live and work in the community know that it has a lot to offer — fun things to do, pretty neighborhoods and nice people. So it naturally bothers us when outsiders don’t see the good in the community.
Which begs the question: What are local officials doing to entice Colts fans to spend more time and money when they come here for Colts camp, and what is being done to encourage them to come back to Anderson?
Officials at the City of Anderson and at the Anderson/Madison County Visitors Bureau believe they’re making a strong effort to do both.
In an email Friday, Anderson Public Information Officer Charlee Turner noted the local food and beverage tax typically gets a 15-20 percent increase when the Colts are in town, suggesting a rise in hotel stays and restaurant visits. She also pointed out that many local businesses display signs welcoming the Colts and that the city hosted its second annual Colts breakfast at the Paramount, featuring Coach Chuck Pagano as the keynote speaker.
Addressing a fan’s concerns in the Aug. 14 article about seeing rundown properties on the way into the city for Colts camp, Turner noted that the city has taken an aggressive approach to mowing overgrown lots.
Visitors bureau chief Tom Bannon, in another email, pointed out that the community visitors guide is available at camp and that a billboard along Scatterfield Road promotes the visitors bureau and community activities. As a major sponsor of Colts camp, the visitors bureau has a banner there promoting the website. In addition, the visitors bureau logo is on the Colts.com training camp page and the bureau has an ad in the Colts yearbook. Reaching farther, the visitors bureau took out an ad in a Fort Wayne newspaper promoting Colts camp and Anderson.
All of these efforts are important and generally well targeted. And if you go out to eat in Anderson or to Mounds Mall in the evening after a Colts practice, you’ll see folks in Colts jerseys who probably came from training camp — and you might see a Colts player or two, as well.
It’s difficult to estimate the economic impact of Colts camp. The city usually says $5 million-$6 million annually. The tracking of camp attendance isn’t an exact science, either, but an estimate of about 37,000 fans at camp this year probably isn’t far off.
Given the response of Colts fans in the recent article, we have to wonder if local officials should be more aggressive and find more ways to induce fans to explore the rest of the city. Colts camp ended Friday, but the team is expected to come back to Anderson for its 2 1/2-week training camp again next August.
How about Anderson promotional tents just outside each entrance to camp with large signs touting restaurant, hotel and retail coupons? Or how about a slate of appearances at various places in Anderson of former Colts players to sign autographs one hour after the conclusion of each practice? It would cost to bring the players in, but the resulting benefit for local merchants could be worth the price.
These ideas might or might not work, but the point is that local officials should brainstorm a new strategy for getting Colts fans to spend more time and money in Anderson while they’re here for Colts camp. Even better, let’s get the fans to come back to the city another time, not just for Colts camp but to shop, eat and recreate.
Whatever you think of Wednesday’s article, it’s clear that more can — and should — be done to capitalize on Colts training camp at AU.