Here’s another story about life in college towns across the country facing no college football — and, more particularly, no college football fans — this fall.
“This is easily going to be the most impactful in towns that are in this sweet spot, where the smaller the town is, the higher the [game] attendance is,” said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute. “When you’ve got a stadium that’s holding 80,000, a hundred thousand-plus, and only 20 to 25,000 are students, those are massive economic impacts.”
Alumni travel from all over the country to return to their alma maters on Saturdays in the fall, bringing not just kids to bore with old stories, but also dollars that stay in town.
“It’s the lifeblood of this community,” said Happy Valley Adventure Bureau president and CEO Fritz Smith of Penn State football. “It draws people back to the community in huge numbers. Football is probably the single biggest economic driver in the community.” Smith estimates that the economic impact of Penn State home games is $70 million to $80 million apiece, and that loss — on top of the dollars that vanished when students left town in mid-March — is catastrophic.
“This was another kick in the shins,” Smith said. “We’ve gone cold turkey on sports for some time now, and everybody was looking forward to fall football. Now that’s been yanked away from us, and there’s a lot of, ‘What are we going to do?’ ”
“The economic impact will be significant,” Tomer said. “Most critically, there’s no replacement for what’s being lost. Those games aren’t coming back. There will be an absolute concrete loss of sales to a full suite of game-serving businesses.” There’s the obvious loss to dining, retail and lodging businesses, but also other “off-the-books” businesses: Front yards turned into parking lots, churches and Scout troops selling lemonade and barbecue, all the small elements of a full game-day experience.
It certainly sucks, but there’s a part of me that wonders how many of these same people lamenting the loss of business now have been dismissing mask wearing and going to bars and restaurants without social distancing in mind over the spring and summer.