SBJ/July 5 - 11, 1999/No Topic Name

Bears ponder migration from Wisconsin

The NFL Has long been an economic boom for a handful of rural Wisconsin towns that host monthlong training camps, but that profitable circuit may be broken as the Chicago Bears consider severing their ties with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Since 1984, the Bears have trained at UW-Platteville, a 5,000-student state school 180 miles from Chicago in western Wisconsin. The remote location combined with college football facilities has proved successful enough that three other NFL clubs train at similar schools throughout the state, allowing teams to scrimmage against one another while boosting tourism in the Wisconsin towns.

This year, the New Orleans Saints, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bears and the Green Bay Packers will train in Wisconsin, creating what’s known as the "Cheese League," which draws thousands of tourists to the state. The Saints train at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the Chiefs train at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and the Packers train at St. Norbert’s College in DePere. In nearby Minnesota, the Vikings train at Mankato State University.

But the Bears may take a bite out of the league when the team’s deal with Platteville ends after this year. Bears officials are already hinting of possible changes. New coach Dick Jauron said last week that the team is considering staying at its Halas Hall regular-season practice facility in Lake Forest, Ill.

"[Jauron] said he is open to not going to Platteville," a Bears spokesman confirmed, declining to elaborate on the team’s plans.

The Bears’ contract with UW-Platteville is ending as other teams leverage training camps into money-making ventures.

The Philadelphia Eagles are financing a new training facility with a 25-year, $60 million naming-rights deal with NovaCare Inc., and Atlanta Falcons officials said they will move their training center from Suwanee, Ga., to Stone Mountain Park, a major tourist attraction outside of Atlanta. The Falcons’ proposed $20 million complex would be paid for by corporate sponsors and a naming-rights sale.

The new training camp deals have not gone unnoticed by Platteville business leaders, who count on the Bears to boost tourism.

"The Bears have said they have some other possible plans, but we are hoping that they will renew the contract and stay here," said Kathy Copp, executive director of the Platteville Chamber of Commerce. "We don’t have a dollar figure, but there is a definite impact of having the Bears here in Platteville. For a small community, it’s a big deal, and it’s good for business."

UW-Platteville officials would not comment on how much money the university makes on the Bears but said they are negotiating a new deal.

"There is a lot of prestige for us, and we make money off the Bears, but if they go, my best guess is that other teams will be looking to come in," said Curt Fatzinger, UW-Platteville’s training camp coordinator. "The Bears aren’t asking for anything different, but they have a new coach, and it all depends on how he perceives what happens here."

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