By Tim Krohn
---- — MANKATO — Mike and Amanda Nicholson are the kinds of Vikings training camp attendees that make a tourism director smile and business owners happy.
The Grand Forks couple comes to Mankato for camp every year, often for a week. This year it's a Thursday-to-Sunday stay.
"Probably about a grand," said Mike when asked to estimate what they'd spend during their stay here. That's for hotels, meals, gas, some shopping and money spent at camp.
"We probably spend the most on souvenirs," he said, holding up a couple of large bags he was holding in addition to goodies his wife was carrying.
"We try to get something big each year," Amanda said.
The memorabilia for the day included an Adrian Peterson print, mini helmets, signs and sweatshirts.
Anna Thill, president of Visit Mankato, said the city will benefit economically even more this year as training camp lasts for three full weeks (camp breaks Aug. 15). That's slightly longer than last year and considerably longer than two years ago when camp was shortened because of conflicts with an earlier than usual MSU class start.
Last year, the Vikings counted 52,000 fans attending camp events. The year before 60,000 turned out. Those counts, of course, include people who attend camp on multiple days.
"We always seem to get at least one fan from England and we always have Canadian fans who come down," Thill said. Based on surveys of visitors, fans come from about 30 different states and more than 100 Minnesota cities.
The economic impact of camp on Mankato is estimated at $5 million, a number Thill thinks is conservative.
"Part of it's based on how much a hotel room costs times how many nights and how many people. Obviously 52,000 people aren't spending the night in hotels, so we estimate how many do."
The formula also includes an estimate that each of the fans attending a camp spend an average of $50 per day (60,000 x $50 = $3 million). "That formula was from a few years ago so I think that would be higher (than $50) today," Thill said.
The top benefactors of that spending are hotels, bars and restaurants. "We know that when people visit, they shop and eat so the retailers do well, too."
Mike and Jan Hoffman are an example of those fans who give a little extra fuel to the local economy, even though they already live in Mankato.
They have long had season tickets — just two now, but at one time five when their kids were younger — and they attend training camp several times each year. They were camped out under a purple and gold tent on a corner at MSU Thursday when players arrived.
"Last year we came up to camp three times," Mike said. "The first time we spent about $200 in the Vikings store, the second time about $150 and another $200 the third time. So we probably spend $500 or $600 just on souvenirs."
Paul Wilke, longtime manager of River Hills Mall, said he's sure the $5 million economic impact estimate is likely too low.
As he's tracked traffic numbers at the mall over the years, he sees an average 14 percent increase in traffic during Vikings training camp. That equates to an additional 3,500 people each day in the mall.
He also knows the average shopper in the mall spends $50 there, meaning the 14 percent increase in mall visitors equates to an potential average of $175,000 in additional spending in the mall every day.
"Obviously it's huge for the retailers. I see a lot of purple jerseys in the food court during camp. It's very good for Mankato," Wilke said.
And Wilke said he has personal experience with the draw of the camp. "I have high school friends who live in California and they plan trips back here for training camp."
For Thill and her staff, taking advantage of an annual influx of visitors to promote the area is key.
"This is the second busiest time for us after the marathon.
"What we try to do at Visit Mankato is to get people to see the parks and others sights so they want to come back and visit other times."