Next week will mark the first time since the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 that the team has held a joint training camp in the Hoosier state with another NFL team.
And it’s against the Chicago Bears, who have a sizable following in Indiana.
Unfortunately local fans won’t see a single snap of it—not live anyway.
What could have been the best attended week of Colts training camp in recent years—perhaps decades—is instead being closed to the public. Camp will remain open to the media.
The Colts normally hold training camp at Anderson University and—following NFL protocol—most of those practices are open to the public. But following the team’s preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Colts are moving camp to the team’s West 56th Street training complex.
Colts officials say that move is necessary because the Bears couldn’t find a suitable place to stay in Anderson.
“There wasn’t anything anywhere near Anderson that could accommodate them,” said Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward.
That surprised Anderson Madison County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Matt Rust.
“That’s news to me. We have plenty of hotel space here,” Rust said.
According to the Anderson Madison County Visitors Bureau, there are 15 hotels in Madison County, not including three tiny bed and breakfast outposts. The largest hotel in Madison County, according to the bureau’s web site, is the 125-room America’s Best Value Inn. The next biggest are a 107-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites, a 99-room Hampton Inn and a 98-room Comfort Inn.
But in the third week of training camp, the Bears—like the Colts and every other NFL team—will still have 90 players on the roster. The cut to 75 doesn’t take place until Sept. 1 with the cut to 53 following a few days later.
So with coaches and other staffers, the team could need 75 to 100 rooms during its week here. The team no doubt wants them all at one hotel. And while training camp is all about roughing it, the team is likely looking for a three- or four-star hotel.
So the Bears opted to book a hotel in downtown Indianapolis, where there are a number of hotels with several hundred rooms. Ward declined to reveal which one but hospitality insiders say the Bears will be staying at the 1,004-room J.W. Marriott.
The Colts then decided to move the site of the joint training camp to its west-side complex to make things more efficient for the Bears.
Unfortunately, that means those jointly held practices will be closed. There simply isn’t enough room for spectators to watch practice or even to park their vehicles at the Colts complex, Ward explained.
And there would have been plenty of spectators on hand for the Colts-Bears joint practices. Various sports marketing surveys show that the Bears are the second most popular team—behind the Colts—in the vast majority of Indiana counties.
Regular Colts training camp sessions draw 5,000 to 8,000 spectators, but Colts officials estimated 20,000 or more might have attended a Colts-Bears joint practice, which will include some inter-squad scrimmaging.
“If you add another NFL team to the mix, especially one as close as Chicago, who knows what it could attract,” Ward said. “It certainly would draw a very good crowd.”
Moving the joint camp to Lucas Oil Stadium—which has plenty of room for spectators—was not an option because more than one football field is needed to accommodate the joint practices, Ward explained.
“It’s practice, not a scrimmage. So they break out into different areas,” Ward said. “So the single stadium field will not work for what they are trying to do.”
Many NFL football fans love attending training camp because it gives them early-season insight and a view of behind-the-scenes preparation they couldn’t get from attending games. It also provides an environment where fans can get up closer to players on the field and a looser environment after the practice ends, where fans can often say hello to or get a photo and an autograph of a favorite player.
All is not lost for Bears fans though. The two days of joint practices—Aug. 19 and 20—will lead into the Colts and Bears preseason game on Aug. 22 at Lucas Oil Stadium.