Ochsner Sports Performance Center – New Orleans Saints Practice
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Ochsner Sports Performance Center 5800 Airline Dr Metairie, LA 70003
Year Opened: 1996
The Saints Home Away from The Dome
Every late July/early August you can feel it in the air. School is just getting ready to get back in session, and summer is winding down, which can only mean one thing – we just have to get through this unbearably hot month of August and then football season will be here. For the NFL's 32 teams they are getting ready to go to battle for the upcoming season, as all 32 teams report to training camp around the last week of July, and the beginning of the dog days of summer. Some teams stay close to home and use their own practice facilities for camp, while others practice in other sites away from home.
For the New Orleans Saints, in 2017 they moved their training camp back to their official practice facility, Ochsner Sports Performance Center. The Saints have moved their training camp a lot in their 57-year history; 10 different locations all over the country have hosted Saints Training Camp over the years. San Diego (CA), Hattiesburg (MS), Vero Beach (FL), La Crosse (WI), Thibodaux (LA), and Jackson (MS) have served as some of the hosts over the years, and from 2014 to 2016 the Saints even practiced at Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, before moving back closer to home.
The Performance Center originally opened in 1996 in the New Orleans' suburb of Metairie, as the home to the Saints throughout the year; the Saints have held training camp here from 2003-2005, 2010-2013, and now continuously since 2017. In 2013 the New Orleans Pelicans moved their official training center here as well, and the facility was renamed the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, after the New Orleans-based hospital.
For the 2023 season the Saints announced that six outdoor training camp practices would be open to the public. In years past practices would be two hours long, but due to excessive heat they would later trim the outdoor practices to one hour (10-11 am).
Food and Beverages 3
There is one tent set up selling concessions as soon as you enter the grounds; prices are surprisingly cheap for an NFL venue, with everything ranging from $2 to $6. Hamburgers, hot dogs, jumbo pretzels, and chips are just some of the main options on the menu, while for local fare they do offer jambalaya for $6, something you must eat if you visit Louisiana. For 2023 the training camp gates open at 9 am, so if you come hungry you can also grab breakfast – bacon, sausage, and chicken biscuits sell for $5, and you can grab a muffin for $3.
For drink options, Coke is the official soft drink provider of the New Orleans Saints, so you will find bottled Coke products for sale for $2, which is cheaper than you will find in a gas station. For alcohol, Bud Light and Miller Lite are sold, and they even have your morning coffee fix for $3. Dasani bottled water and Gatorade products are sold for $3 – make sure you stay hydrated as it will be extremely hot in the Louisiana sun. Raising Cane's is also on hand as well, providing fans with free lemonade.
However, if you come to a Saints practice, you won't be here long as practices only last an hour. So even though this is New Orleans, the practice facility isn't a place where you necessarily need to splurge on food.
The Ochsner Sports Performance Center is the official headquarters of the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans. The first phase of the facility opened in 1996 when the Saints moved their administrative offices here, and opened a practice field where they would practice throughout the year. Today the facility has been expanded to include a 19-acre campus with a 77,504-square-foot multi-purpose center that includes locker rooms, physical therapy and treatment area, doctor’s office, media studio, museum, and the operations & administrative offices. The centerpiece of the facility is the 75,000-sqaure-foot indoor practice facility that rises 78 feet in the air. The indoor facility is home to a full-length football field, full-service cafeteria, and gym, but is not open to the public.
Outside the indoor facility are two football fields, and this is where the outdoor portions of training camp practices happen. The two fields face east and west, with the huge indoor practice facility to the south providing the backdrop to the bleachers on the north sidelines. There is also bleacher seating behind the end zone on the west side. As mentioned the players spend the first hour (9-10 am) practicing indoors because of the excessive heat; the gates open at 9 so you have the first hour to walk around and check out everything. Next to the concessions area they have a merchandise tent selling Saints gear cheaper than you would find at a game, and the Pelicans and Saints both even have booths set up with ticket execs, out in full force trying to sell ticket flex plans.
Seats are first come first serve, so the front rows fill up quickly. At 10 am the players come out one by one and begin doing various stretches, before moving onto their drills. It can be kind of confusing to watch, as the players break up into their positions and do positional drills on different sides of the two fields. The sightlines aren't the best, so if you came to the see the quarterbacks there is a chance they could be on the far side of the field. There is only so much they can do in an hour, but the cool thing is no matter where you sit you are guaranteed to be right up close to at least some of the players. The offensive line, running backs, and special teams players were practicing on my side the last time I came, roughly 15 feet in front of me, and after practice the players come right up to the bleachers and sign autographs – not all the players are there, but most of them will come up and sign. The only problem is it’s completely random which players you will get to meet.
The Ochsner Performance Center is about a 15–20-minute drive from the Caesars Superdome in the large suburb of Metairie. The facility is located out near the Airport, and unfortunately there is not a lot to do in the immediate area. However, there is plenty to do in Metairie itself – the town of about 150,000 is typical of large city suburbs, with a lot of shopping and chain restaurants. Metairie also has a lot of the wealthier neighborhoods of the metro area, and is where many of the Saints and Pelicans players live. A few miles over the railroad tracks to the south is the Elmwood Shopping Center, a large outdoor shopping mall with over 50 stores. Also, a few miles closer to Lake Pontchartrain to the north is the Lakeside Shopping Mall, the largest shopping center in the metro area with over 150 stores. The Rivertown neighborhood in Kenner is about 5 miles away as well, and makes for a great place to visit, known for its local shops and restaurants right on the Mississippi River.
For outdoor lovers Metairie also has over 40 parks, the largest being Lafreniere Park, which makes for a great morning stroll before heading to watch practice. There is also a pretty cool bike trail that runs from the airport along Lake Pontchartrain, and into the French Quarter and along the Mississippi River – it'll take a couple hours to complete this trail though.
Most of the restaurants in Metairie are chain and fast food, however, there is a cool local spot near Airline Drive called Dennis' Seafood – inside you can find all the famous Cajun food Louisiana is known for, and then out back you can feed 'Neuty', the giant pet nutria rat the owner rescued a few years ago. Neuty was almost removed by the state health department, until the citizens gathered over 20,000 petitions to keep him. Nutria rats gain a bad reputation as swamp rats and pests, but they are more closely aligned and look more like beavers and otters than rats.
And of course, while at practice you are only about 20 minutes from one of the most famous cities in world in New Orleans. I could go on for days about all the things to do in the Crescent City – you can go to the morning practice and then venture into the city and walk around. July and August are not a very busy time for the city, as it is often extremely hot, so there are not a lot of visitors; you will find not as many tourists, shorter lines at restaurants, and cheaper parking and hotel rooms during this time. I highly recommend a visit to the city if you have never visited New Orleans before.
The Saints fan base is one of the rowdiest and most dedicated fan bases in the NFL; the Saints have a dedicated group of supporters who have supported this team through thick and thin. This fan base has seen is it all, from the days of wearing paper bags on their heads during the ‘ain’ts’ period, to when Mike Ditka traded away all their draft picks to get Ricky Williams. And the fans certainly remember Aug 29, 2005, when they were left without a home stadium to play in after Hurricane Katrina. But through it all this diehard fan base has continued to support the black and gold, with no signs of slowing down. There is a wait list for season tickets backed up for years, and single game tickets are hard to come by or extremely expensive. For years there was talk of relocation for the team, but that kind of talk hasn't been heard since the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era began.
Tickets are free for practices, but people will snatch the tickets up, and training camp tickets often sell out the day they go on sale – that is how much in demand it is just to watch the Saints practice. Fans are into practice and are very knowledgeable about the players, so when a big player makes a big catch the crowd will cheer. People on the Gulf Coast love their Saints, and I would say 95% of the people there were in some sort of Saints gear.
The Performance Center is located on Airline Drive, the main highway that connects downtown New Orleans to the airport. If traveling from the city it may take a while with red lights, so I recommend taking I-10 and getting off at Clearview Pkwy, at Exit 226, then travel south for about 2 miles and you'll reach Airline Drive; go west another mile and the facility is on the left. Airline Drive is a busy highway, but you can’t see the field from the highway, as it is surrounded by trees. The only thing you can see is the huge indoor practice facility with ‘Saints’ written on it. Most of the practices are on weekend mornings, though, so you won't be fighting much of the metro traffic on the interstate.
There is no official parking at the complex, so you must park at the Shrine on Airline parking lot at the next intersection – the Shrine on Airline is now called the Gold Mine, and is home to Major League Rugby's Nola Gold; from 1997-2019 it was called Zephyr Field, and was home of the Triple A New Orleans Zephyrs/Baby Cakes. There are enough spaces to offer plenty of parking at this stadium, and there are also about 15 shuttle buses transporting people to the practice field, with the buses dropping fans off right at the main entrance to the field.
Return on Investment 4
As mentioned tickets are free, parking is free, and you get to be up close with some of the best players in the NFL, so I consider this a good return on investment. At most major sporting events you have to fight traffic and parking to get there, but coming here is not like that, and you don't have to give up your whole day to come here either, as practice is only an hour, so it is possible to be home by noon. So if you are a fan of football and live on the Gulf Coast, I recommend coming out to watch the Saints practice for at least one of the practices each year.
Perhaps the greatest achievement in Saints history occurred on Feb 7, 2010, when the Saints won their first and only Super Bowl. To honor that achievement, the Saints installed a giant LED 'Super Bowl XLIV Champions' sign on the side of the indoor practice facility, which you can see from the road. As you drive down Airline Drive the only thing you see from the road is the giant indoor facility saying, 'Home of the New Orleans Saints', and right under that the Super Bowl XLIV Champs logo. Also right under the Super Bowl sign is a small sign of a black umbrella with the letter TB under it – this is dedicated to longtime owner Tom Benson, who passed away in 2018. Benson was famous for celebrating Saints wins by dancing around with his umbrella, while a jazz band played 'When the Saints Go Marching In'. Benson's legacy will always be a part of the New Orleans Saints history.
The Ochsner Sports Performance Center is also the only training facility in the country which is home to both an NFL and an NBA team. In 2012 Tom Benson purchased the New Orleans Hornets, and as part of the new branding the team changed its name to the Pelicans – he would later move the team's operations to the Saints’ home base. Therefore, in 2013 the Sports Performance Center added a $10 million addition which included a 45,000-square-foot building to house two practice courts and the Pelicans' administrative offices; it's also common to see Pelicans players come out to Saints’ practices.
Another extra just for the fact that training camp is the one place where you can get up close and personal with your favorite NFL players – at games you are not going to meet players, but at training camp you can. The Saints organization does an excellent job with their fan engagement and letting fans attend several training camp practices; perhaps this is why Saints tickets are so hard to come by.