The NFL Europe League will now train its 400 players in the Tampa Bay area
Call it the Florida Effect. Aaron Stecker moves to Tampa, and now 600 of his closest friends want to come visit.
Heck, a whole league wants to follow in Stecker's path.
Representatives of NFL Europe were at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' headquarters on Wednesday to announce a major move for the league: the team's annual spring training camp is relocating to the Tampa Bay area.
There are currently six teams in the NFLEL, and they will now convene in Tampa Bay for their month of training before heading overseas. The camp was previously held in Orlando, and Atlanta before that.
We were looking for an opportunity to develop our relationship in an NFL city," said Bill Peterson, NFLEL President. "We evaluated Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa Bay. We decided to move our training camp to Tampa Bay for a number of reasons. First of all, the facilities that we found here in Tampa Bay are an upgrade over what we've had in the past years. Secondly, the warm reception we've received from the city of Tampa, the city of Clearwater and St. Petersburg has been incredible."
The relocation of the NFLEL camp will bring 600 players and NFLEL employees to the area and an estimated influx of $2.5 million. There will also be several hundred members of the international media on hand to cover the camp and provide reports to over 60 countries.
Stecker was one of those 600 that reported to Orlando last spring, without a roster spot necessarily locked up. Stecker, allocated to the league by the Buccaneers after spending about two months on Tampa Bay's practice squad, did earn a spot with the Scottish Claymores and went on to win league Offensive MVP honors. He then earned a spot on the Bucs' roster this summer and is the team's primary kickoff returner.
Stecker credits his breakout performance in Europe with his ability to achieve his overall goal of making it in the NFL.
"The NFL Europe experience was great in my situation," said Stecker. "I'm a guy who, on paper, is not very big and not very fast, a guy who's always had to prove myself. (NFLEL) was just a stepping stone for me to go out and try to prove that I can play at the next level. I was fortunate enough that the Tampa Bay organization believed enough in me to send me over and let me work on my skills."
Similarly, the NFLEL hopes that the Tampa Bay area can help it achieve the next level. The Europe League's six teams played in front of average crowds of over 30,000 spectators last year and sent numerous players to the NFL this fall. The league recently reaffirmed its commitment to keep the league operating for the foreseeable future.
The NFL and the Buccaneers believe that the quality of play in the NFLEL will continue to increase as teams send more and more talented players to compete in the spring league. And it all will start here in Tampa Bay.
"To us, it's a pretty big deal," said Buccaneers General Manager Rich McKay. "We're happy to have them. We worked behind the scenes to see if we could procure their services, if you will. To us as a football team, it's a good thing because we always send our scouts and some of our coaches up to spend time at the camp. It will be nice to have them in our community."
McKay also sees the camp's relocation as a continuing benefit of being a part of the National Football League.
"When we went through a protracted stadium issue, one of the things that we tried to point out was the ancillary benefits that go along with being an NFL city," said McKay. "I think this is one of them. I think one of the reasons that NFL Europe came to Tampa was because the Buccaneers are located here. It will be a nice year for us (as a community) to be able to play the Super Bowl game at Raymond James Stadium and then follow it up with NFL Europe's training camp.
"As a community, it's a good thing for us from an economic impact standpoint and from a national media exposure standpoint."