The Teriyaki chicken bowls that Rio Mesa High football boosters will serve during the coming week are a tasty measure of the impact that the Dallas Cowboys training camp has had on this city's economy in recent years.
The Spartans' boosters expect to clear as much as $5,000 from a booth that will offer food and drinks to fans who flock to the city-owned training complex when the Cowboys open training camp on Saturday.
But the boosters and other nonprofits that have benefited from the Cowboys camp in Oxnard are looking for new fund-raisers because the team will return to San Antonio's Alamodome in 2007 for its new training camp location.
The Cowboys' departure will put a $1.46 million dent in the local economy, according to a survey completed last year by Los Angeles-based LSC Consulting. The 2005 training camp attracted about 13,800 out-of-town visitors who, on average, stayed for about two days and spent slightly more than $120, according to the survey completed for the Oxnard Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The survey didn't measure spending by locals who attended Cowboys practices. Nor did it focus on nearly 90 players, more than 100 Cowboys staffers and the estimated 125 out-of-town media types who also reserved hotel rooms, ate at local restaurants and consumed the occasional chicken teriyaki bowl. The estimated economic impact of the 2005 camp to the local economy also was lessened by an attendance drop of about 20% from the prior year, according to study author Lauren Schlau.
Still, local businesses clearly benefit when the Dallas Cowboys are in residence at the Oxnard practice field that was built during the mid-1980s to host the then L.A. Raiders.
A suite hotel near the city-owned practice field serves as headquarters for the Cowboys and their fans. Another hotel houses out-of-town sports reporters. The nearby BJ's Brewery & Restaurant occasionally is used by Cowboys staffers as a meeting place, and the restaurant in the past has catered meals for VIP guests at the training camp. Last year, some BJ's employees were invited to watch the action from the end zone, turf that's usually reserved for VIPs.
Although fans are in town mainly to see their Cowboys, the practice schedule allows plenty of time for seeing the Oxnard Harbor and other local sights, said Janet S. Sederquist, executive director of the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau. The tourism industry has benefited from out-of-town media references to the Oxnard location, Sederquist said.
Oxnard city officials breathed a sigh of relief when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones embraced an open-door policy -- a decided contrast to when the Raiders held summer workouts in Oxnard for a decade starting in the mid-1980s. The city got little in the way of an economic bump because Raiders owner Al Davis opted to erect barriers that kept fans, the media and opposing teams from catching any of the action.
"Training camp can be a great marketing tool," former Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs said. "Some coaches don't really want any public involvement in their camps, but it can be a great economic generator for the team as well as for the city where it's held. And Jerry Jones is the best at marketing in the NFL right now -- and he has been for several years."
The Cowboys have turned a relatively mundane training camp experience into a marketing opportunity that's designed to benefit the team as well as the host city. The fan-friendly camp includes a mini-theme park with an NFL Experience attraction, a Cowboys history display and an extensive gift shop.
The Cowboys also made room for local nonprofits to raise funds.
"We've earned a great chunk of our money from this fund-raiser," said Bob Gregorchuk, coach at Rio Mesa. "And it's a great team-builder for us. The kids hang out and work together, so the Cowboys really are giving back to this community and its youth."
The Cowboys first set up camp in Oxnard in 2001 when they split preseason camp between Wichita Falls, Texas, and Southern California. The team earlier had based its training camp in Thousand Oaks for nearly three decades.
The team spent its summers in 2002 and 2003 in San Antonio and returned to Oxnard in 2004. City officials in San Antonio tied the loss of the Cowboys' training camp to a scheduling conflict and a subsequent disagreement over a financial incentive that the city no longer wanted to pay the team in return for practicing in the Alamodome.
Though Oxnard will lose a welcome economic driver after this year's camp, city officials describe it as an amicable parting. They see no evidence that the Cowboys' brief stay in town was the result of a franchise trying to play one city against another to win financial concessions.
The Cowboys began looking for a new summer camp location last year when it became apparent that buildings soon would rise on a vacant tract near the practice facility that serves as a temporary parking lot.
The landowner recently submitted development plans, and there is little open space nearby that is suitable for parking -- raising the question of what the city-owned facility will be used for in coming years.
In February, San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and Jones announced a five-year agreement that will return the Cowboys to the Alamodome in 2007. The deal allows the Cowboys to use the Alamodome "basically for rent-free," Hardberger spokesman J.J. Saulino said. "Our anticipation is that the city will come out ahead" financially, Saulino added, on the strength of revenue generated by parking, concessions and money generated by preseason scrimmages.
McCombs, who lives in San Antonio, said the move to the Alamodome makes financial sense for the Cowboys "from the standpoint of logistics alone. It's a huge job to move all of the equipment to the training camp."
The Cowboys also will use the Alamodome appearance during the summer to drum up fan interest in a market where the team competes with the Houston Texans.
"Having the Cowboys come here is absolutely a good move," McCombs said.