Eagles return to Lehigh for 15th year

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) - July 26, 2010 "We have every intention of being at Lehigh University for the foreseeable future and I have every reason to believe they are looking forward to having us," Eagles President Joe Banner said in a statement released by the team.

Fans over the next three weeks will see one of the more intriguing camps since the flamboyant Terrell Owens was making headlines as a hero and villain. Donovan McNabb - the team's love-him-or-hate-him franchise quarterback - has departed for Washington, D.C., ushering in the Kevin Kolb era. But the crowds fixated on the new No. 4 at quarterback won't translate into a financial windfall for Lehigh, said Joe Sterrett, university's dean of athletics.

"We don't lose money, because if we were losing money we would probably be saying, 'We have to rethink this,"' said Sterrett. "I think it's pretty much a break-even thing."

Lehigh never viewed training camp as a money maker, Sterrett said. What the university does get is the Eagles' investment in top-notch athletic fields that are used by university teams, various training equipment that the Eagles have left behind over the years and more bodies on campus that help provide a pay check to campus employees.

Lehigh collects fees for dormitory rooms that otherwise wouldn't be used over the summer. The university attributed a record number of student applications in 1997 to the Eagles presence.

"Probably the best thing we get out of it is the Eagles care deeply about the quality of fields because it's important in protecting their (players)," Sterrett said. "They've supplemented what we've always done and we end up with very good fields."

Sterrett said the Eagles over the years have benefitted from expanded locker room space, "much nicer" air-conditioned training facilities, more sports medicine space and an artificial surface field that comes in handy during rain periods.

At Lehigh, the Eagles get a prime opportunity to showcase players to the Lehigh Valley, sell the team's brand inside a massive merchandise tent and appeal to younger fans at its "Play 60 Zone."

"Lehigh University, the community of Bethlehem and surrounding areas are ideal and have everything we are looking for," Banner said. "Training camp is accessible to our fans from the Delaware Valley region and our extended fan base as well. For the thousands of people who visit us every day, this site for the past 15 years has become an important family tradition."

Fans are afforded a free day of football-watching and the potential for player autographs and have had their share of memorable, albeit sweltering, days. Among them was the unveiling of a franchise quarterback in 1999 and the traffic jam-inducing 24,000 fans who flocked to Lehigh for the T.O. show one day in 2004.

Lurie, who has described Lehigh's sports complex as "first-class," said after the switch from West Chester University to Lehigh that "we're going to be able to do so much more for the fans."

This year's camp will feature the second annual "Health and Safety Day," which will provide fans with information on Aug. 7 about personal health and staying hydrated. The following day, the team will host Gatorade Junior Camp, a program for children ages 6 to 12.

But when it comes to training camp's effect on local economy, the results aren't so clear. Although restaurants near camp have seen an increase in business over the years, other shops haven't been as fortunate, said Samantha Schwartz, the manager of the Downtown Bethlehem Association. But she said the business community is now making a more concerted push to offer discounts and specials to training camp visitors.

While foot traffic originating from Eagles camp has been described as "very light" in Bethlehem, Natalie Miller, the owner of Looper's Grille & Bar on South Side, said it "brings a lot of people to the city."

Mike Stershic of Discover Lehigh Valley said a financial analysis has never been done to determine the economic impact of the Eagles. "We know people who go there stay for the morning and then go to the Crayola Factory or Dorney Park or other places in the Lehigh Valley. If they don't have kids, generally they go to some place that's air-conditioned," Stershic said.

The Eagles-Lehigh partnership is a year-to-year arrangement and at 15 years is nearing the length of previous Eagle summer homes - Hershey (17 years) and West Chester (16). The Eagles and Lehigh normally ink a new deal a year in advance, although the university said there is still no confirmation on a 2011 deal.

"Sports people tend to be creatures of habit and if they find something that seems to workthey stay with it," Sterrett said. "For as long as we can make it work, we want to try to continue to try to meet their needs."

--- Information from: The Morning Call, http://www.mcall.com

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