Is Loudoun County’s marketing agreement with the Washington Redskins helping attract businesses to the county? That’s the question a growing number of critics are asking about the controversial agreement.
Loudoun officials insist that it is. At recent public meetings, members of the Board of Supervisors have strenuously defended the agreement as a useful tool for marketing the county to business prospects. They say the agreement is producing a healthy return on the county’s $2 million investment.
“That’s an eight-year agreement . . . and the payoff that I’ve seen, the return on investment is somewhere in the ballpark of $16 million over the same term,” Vice Chairman Shawn M. Williams (R-Broad Run) said at a recent budget work session.
“That has proven to be a great partnership. It’s been a great tool to help us improve our commercial tax base,” Williams said. “Whenever I hear criticism of that investment, I know it’s not coming from an informed position.”
When supervisors approved the agreement in June 2012, a county staff report estimated its value at $16 million over eight years, including the value of advertising, game tickets and hospitality packages.
The agreement included marketing assets associated with the team’s training camp, which the team has since moved from Ashburn to Richmond. A report commissioned by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership estimated that the training camp generates $1.1 million annually in state and local tax revenue.
According to a county staff report presented to the board’s Economic Development Committee last year, the agreement was worth more than $1 million in advertising, events, game tickets and other assets that were used for business attraction, retention and marketing during the first year of the eight-year deal.
“In our efforts to build the commercial tax base for Loudoun County, we use every advantage to convince businesses that Loudoun County is the right place for them,” Department of Economic Development Director Buddy Rizer said in an e-mail. “The Redskins marketing assets are some of the tools we use.
“Anecdotally, several companies have told me that this has been a factor in their location decision, one suggesting that being on the field before the game and getting to meet the governor sealed the deal for them,” Rizer said. He declined to provide the names of any companies that had moved to Loudoun as a result of the agreement, saying that “our policy is to never share any company’s information or decision metrics without their consent.”
Critics of the agreement have questioned whether businesses would decide to locate in Loudoun because of the county’s partnership with the Redskins.
“Can’t they tell [business] prospects that Loudoun is home to Redskins without paying that money?” asked Samantha Villegas, owner of SaVi PR, a public relations firm based in Loudoun. “And why is that fact the tipping point for businesses considering Loudoun? Why does it matter? It’s not like they play their games here.”
Villegas said that she tried to make use of the county’s partnership with the Redskins in October, when she enlisted the help of the Department of Economic Development to host a business networking event at Redskins Park. The Redskins repeatedly raised concerns about security, she said, and the team insisted that the location of the event at Redskins Park not be mentioned in any advance publicity.
“Well, that’s the draw,” she said. The team’s refusal to allow the location of the event in marketing materials became a deal-breaker, she said, and her group ultimately had the event at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
“As a resident, it is ludicrous to me that we’re paying them,” Villegas said. “They’re here. We shouldn’t have to pay them a cent to say their headquarters are here.”
Villegas also questioned the county’s use of restricted hotel tax funds to pay the Redskins. Under Virginia law, the funds are restricted to the promotion of travel and tourism in the county.
“It’s a slap in the face to all those very important, critical social services and nonprofits who rely on county funds [and] were nickeled and dimed through every budget process,” she said. “And then you have this huge, big-ticket item. . . . What’s the benefit? What’s the payback? What’s the return?”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) defended the use of hotel tax revenue on the marketing agreement, saying that business travel is the leading source of hotel stays in Loudoun. “Anything that we do to promote business development in the county provides additional occupancy for our hotels,” he said.
In an interview, Letourneau singled out one business located in Loudoun because of the marketing agreement. “The Redskins,” he said. “They stayed here.”
Letourneau said that the agreement was part of a larger package put together by the state and county to entice the team to expand its facility at its current location.
“At the time, we were trying to keep the Redskins in Loudoun County,” he said. “There was the possibility that they would leave.” He said that Prince George’s County and other jurisdictions had been aggressively courting the team to move its headquarters and practice field there.
According to Rizer, that package also included a $4 million grant from Virginia and a $6 million contribution from the Virginia State Lottery. He estimated the local economic value of the planned expansion of the Redskins Park facilities at $10.2 million.