The Indianapolis Colts have brought in a record crowd at this year’s training camp—by a wide margin.
As camp wrapped up Wednesday morning, Anderson University officials said 85,300 fans turned out at the 18-day camp. That’s almost four times as many as attended last year’s camp in Terre Haute, Colts officials said.
“I think that shows the number of fans along the I-69 corridor,” said James L. Edwards, Anderson University president. “We’re a lot closer to Indianapolis than people think, and with our proximity to Hamilton County, I think it was a big draw.”
Recently enhanced facilities, including improvements to parking, walking corridors, autograph areas and stadium seating, also helped drive up attendance, Edwards said.
“Add to that, the Colts players were incredibly accessible to fans,” he said. “There wasn’t a day that went by without a handful of Colts standing along the fence line signing autographs and talking with fans after practice ended.”
Tom Zupancic, Colts vice president of sales and marketing, said the team brought its mobile museum, Colts City activity center, numerous bands and other acts to Anderson in an attempt to ratchet up interest this year. Colts owner Jim Irsay also made several appearances, talking to and even handing out prizes to fans.
A night practice Tuesday drew 9,500. That far exceeded the 4,800 seating capacity of Anderson University's Macholtz Stadium.
Not even Anderson University officials expected the spectator numbers they saw at this year’s Colts camp.
“We thought coming in we could do better than the Colts did at Terre Haute,” Edwards said. “Maybe 40,000. But this turnout has just been incredible.”
The improvements the university made since it last hosted the camp in 1998 were only part of the reason for the attendance increase.
“This team has a lot of star power, and they’re just coming off of a Super Bowl run,” said Dave Moroknek, president of locally based MainGate Inc., which handles merchandise sales for the Colts and six other NFL teams. “Of all the training camps we’ve been to, the Colts and [Minnesota] Vikings have had the highest attendance by far. It’s off the charts.”
Moroknek reported that merchandise sales were up a “strong double-digit percentage,” during the 2009-10 season over the previous year. As good as last season was, this preseason, so far is up another double-digit percentage.
“A lot of that has to do with the change in the team’s training camp venue and the excitement that has brought,” Moroknek said.
Moroknek said while Peyton Manning jerseys are still a top seller, he said he is seeing big increases among other players this year as well, including Jeff Saturday, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez and Bob Sanders. Wrist bands called Silly Bandz and women’s apparel also are among top-selling items.
Anderson University has a one-year deal to host the Colts' preseason camp, but Edwards hopes to start discussions to extend the deal soon. Edwards said the threat of a work stoppage next season as NFL owners and players work out a new collective bargaining agreement is one factor that complicates matters.
“The Colts have been really happy here this year, so that makes us happy,” Edwards said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Speaking of the bottom line, Edwards added that the Colts’ camp is not profitable for the school. Fan admission was free, but parking cost $10, which was needed to offset security and operational expenses for the school, Edwards said.
“We are just hoping to break even,” Edwards said.
But, he added, the publicity the school has gained from this year’s training camp has been priceless.
“I can’t tell you how many young people attending the camp have told me, ‘I can see myself going to school here,’” Edwards said. “You can’t see yourself in a place if you’ve never been to a place. We have a lot to offer students here, and we have for a long time. But this camp has allowed us to open some people’s eyes on a regional and national level.”