It’s an annual ritual for the Atlanta Falcons faithful— gathering for preseason camp in Flowery Branch to catch a glimpse of favorite players lunging for balls and making tackles.
Not this year, thanks to a common foe: COVID-19.
And that also means less ringing of cash registers in the South Hall city.
“I am sure area restaurants and hotels will miss these fans, too,” said Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
The impact in actual dollars isn’t available, as many of these fans are day-trippers, stopping on their way in or out for a bite to eat or a quick necessities trip at a nearby retailer, Dunlap said.
“For those small business owners around that area that get a little bit of boost this time of the year from those folks coming in, it’s unfortunately almost like another nail in the coffin for them,” Flowery Branch Mayor Mike Miller said. “Business is (already) down with the pandemic. ... It’s just one more thing on top of everything else going on.”
Jessica Miller of the Hampton Inn & Suites off Holland Dam Road in Flowery Branch said that while many fans aren’t necessarily overnight guests, “training camp season is huge for us.”
Vendors, Falcons support staff and media are “a big piece of our business for July and August,” she said.
The July 15 announcement to close camp to fans came while the NFL and NFL Players Association were locked in discussions about the upcoming season and “necessary safety protocols,” according to the franchise.
“Teams reportedly are given the option to host two fan events at their home stadium if strict health protocols are followed, but the Falcons have opted to not host any such events,” according to the team. “The organization believes its decisions on not hosting such events is in the best interest for maintaining the health of its players, coaches, staff and fans.”
On Wednesday, July 22, the Falcons said it had announced in an email to season ticket holders it would have a “limited capacity of up to 10,000-20,000” at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium for home games during the 2020 NFL season.
“It is disappointing,” Dunlap said of the training camp restrictions. “We’ve had fans at Falcons training camp since they moved (it to) Flowery Branch. Kids and fans always enjoy seeing their favorite Falcons in an up-close atmosphere.”
The Falcons began practices in Hall County in August of 2000.
Stacey Dickson, Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau president, said, “We are happy to see the Falcons are able to continue with camp in any capacity and we look forward to a successful season for the team.”
“While I’m sure fans will be disappointed in not being able to have the up-close experience at camp,” she added, “I believe they will agree it’s more important for the players to be able to prepare and stay well so there can be an NFL season.”
Dickson is also hopeful the Falcons will continue to be a “summer tourism draw” in years to come.
“Right now, we all have to consider the greater good for public health above our own desires for entertainment,” she said.