BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Birmingham Mayor William Bell commissioned an outside study to determine the city's odds of becoming home to professional sports teams displaced by natural disasters, along with the possibility of hosting NFL summer training camps.
The report from Bravis Building Solutions concluded that the Magic City had the facilities to make it a strong contender for summer training by the NFL's New Orleans Saints.
But don't expect to see the fleur de lys jersey and helmets replaced with images of Vulcan's spear anytime soon. In a revised version of the report, the consultant admits that Birmingham has little chance of landing the team. Because of the NFL's ongoing sanctions against the Saints, the team decided not to make any changes in its training location, the consultant said.
"But that's not to say you could not approach Nashville with the Tennessee Titans or the Atlanta Falcons," Bravis principal HB Brantley said in an interview with The Birmingham News. "What we do have available is pretty good for a city the size of Birmingham."
Recruiting some kind of professional team to Birmingham has been among Bell's goals. He made headlines earlier this summer when he told a sports talk radio station that the city might vie to become an NBA host.
The appointment letter and Bravis assessment was obtained by The Birmingham News through public information requests to the city.
Brantley's report focused on the Atlanta, New Orleans and Nashville teams because of their proximity and chances Birmingham could nab them at least for summer training.
Brantley cited existing facilities -- including those at Birmingham-Southern College, Legion Field and the Birmingham Crossplex -- as being sufficient to meet the Saints' training needs.
Bravis also was hired to determine whether Birmingham had the capacity to serve as an evacuation city for pro teams when natural disasters knock out namesake cities. Brantley said the same facilities that make Birmingham a good candidate for training also make it a suitable location as an alternative playing venue.
Brantley, in his proposal, also said Bravis would "explore the feasibility of constructing a more permanent training facility to attract a wider usage and create more event days for Organized Team Activities, children's camps, charity events and family leisure."
Brantley said he is optimistic about Birmingham's future as a regional sports center. His report includes several articles and statistics from Sports Business Journal and al.com as supporting evidence.
"What Birmingham is doing is putting in place those venues that will allow it to be able to grab events that will make it a regional location," he said in the interview. "One of the things about sports is the support for sports has not fallen off as drastically as other entertainment options during this slowdown in the economy."
Chuck Faush, Bell's chief of staff, said the need for a report was underscored after a visit here from Saints executives. The visit heightened excitement about a possible training location, but those prospects faded with the recent NFL sanctions.
"When a representative from the Saints came, we took them to Legion Field, Crossplex and Birmingham-Southern, and the combination of those three places made a great package," Faush said. "The report was not just to tell us what we thought we had some knowledge of, but was to show the Saints that we were serious about them coming. And of course we know what happened next."
Faush said $5,000 of the $10,000 contract for the report has been paid, with the rest "actively on hold" while more research is conducted by Bravis and city department heads.
"He has to get with the department of planning to not only review the report but our internal assessments," Faush said. "The city has been looking at Legion Field for a long time. As the mayor has always said, until we have a new facility we have to do what we can with what we have."
Birmingham leaders are wasting time and money focusing on natural disasters that may or may not occur to bring cash in, said Arthur Allaway, a University of Alabama professor of marketing.
"Evacuation cities are once-in-a-million things," he said. "How many teams have been forced to evacuate their cities for more than three weeks other than the Saints?"
So forget about the tornadoes, earthquakes and even locust plagues as a marketing strategy, Allaway advised. Instead, the city would be wise to form a plan to highlight and capitalize on what's already here, particularly sports medicine.
"There is a world-class rehab center for athletes and the best athletes come to Birmingham, so if you can tie something into that, that would be interesting," he said.
Birmingham, with its specialized sports medicine, could become a place where young NFL recruits or hopefuls travel for training before joining the professional ranks, Allaway said.
"Birmingham is turning into a pretty cool city," he said. "There may be a way to have Birmingham become the city of choice for training on how to move to the next level."