Moving 2024 training camp makes sense for the Saints, but it’s bad for fans

The New Orleans Saints are planning to move their 2024 training camp to Irvine, Calif. this summer while construction continues on the team practice facility, as first reported by Jeff Duncan for the Times-Picayune | Advocate and confirmed by NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill. This was something we’ve been expecting after it was suggested last year.

It’s a move that makes sense for the team. The Los Angeles Rams have held training camp at UC-Irvine’s campus before, and the Saints know the area well after traveling for joint practices with the L.A. Chargers four times in the last seven years. From a pure logistics perspective, this looks like an ideal match.

And the Saints are only moving training camp this year because of ongoing renovations to their headquarters in Metairie, specifically the cafeteria. It’s unclear whether this work is being done in response to an NFL Players Association survey that graded the Saints’ food service and nutrition programs among the worst in the league, but it would appear team owner Gayle Benson is responding positively to that kind of feedback by paying for upgrades.

But there’s one other factor to consider: the weather. Last summer, multiple open-to-public practices were moved to the indoor facility due to extreme heat. The changing climate impacted players on the field and led to health emergencies for some fans in attendance. Southern California is notably cooler in August than New Orleans and the Gulf South. There are clearly several benefits to moving training camp for a year.

With all that said: this is bad news for hometown fans. Training camp is the biggest free event (tickets must be reserved in advance, but at no charge) on the team’s calendar and for many fans it’s the only opportunity they’ll have to see their favorite players in person, much less get autographs or photos and create lasting memories. The Saints are probably going to have some event to close out the preseason with fans in New Orleans, either at the Caesars Superdome or Tulane’s Yulman Stadium, as they’ve done often; but that isn’t the same as giving locals day-to-day access.

And it creates an awful optics situation in light of comments from general manager Mickey Loomis over the last year. Loomis has been condescending to fans and local media during his recent public appearances — suggesting game tickets are too expensive for the home crowd, offering bogus stats to excuse Dennis Allen’s poor performance, revising Saints history to try and make Derek Carr look better, and ignoring obvious vulnerabilities that lost the team games. He’s ignored public criticism to run it back with an unpopular and unsuccessful head coach and double down on an underachieving quarterback.

Take that with the annual increase in season-ticket prices and the Saints moving training camp and it characterizes an antagonistic relationship between team leadership and the team’s fanbase. As we’ve seen there are plenty of reasons for the Saints to move training camp away from New Orleans this year. Choosing to go all the way to California instead of using some of the many closer-to-home facilities available in football-centric Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas (or anywhere else between New Orleans and Irvine) is a disappointing decision.

Hopefully the Saints can make up for it. Something that would help: working with the league office to schedule their preseason games on the road earlier on, then playing the final exhibition game (or two) at home, coinciding with any open practices and fan events to reconnect with the community that’s supporting them. We shouldn’t overlook the opportunities for West Coast Saints fans to see the team in person, but ultimately Loomis and other decision-makers need to remember that this team is based out of New Orleans.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire