It’s hard to overstate the importance of football to America’s college towns.
So far, two of America’s so-called Power Five athletic conferences — the Big Ten and Pac-12 — have nixed their fall football seasons over coronavirus worries, although they’re considering restarting in spring. The Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 all plan to move forward, but it’s not clear how many people will be allowed into stadiums or if the season will continue if players fall ill.
“Empty stadiums, regardless of whether there is a season, are going to be devastating to the small college towns,” said University of Mississippi economist Joshua Hendrickson, in Oxford, where the SEC’s Ole Miss is still deliberating over how to handle fans.
“A lot of businesses on the square in Oxford make their year during football weekends,” he said.
Fall Saturdays are usually gangbusters at Fraser’s Pub, where fans saddle up with a brew and some spicy cheese curds a mile or so from Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium, where more than 107,000 people can cheer on the University of Michigan Wolverines.
This year, though, owner Ron Sartori is sweating the loss of the football games, called off when the Big Ten athletic conference postponed the fall season. Fraser’s sales surge up to 150% on home-game days and even 50% for away games, as fans cluster together around the big-screen TVs.
Economists say the loss of a big swath of the college game won’t significantly hit the U.S.’s roughly $21 trillion economy, even if big TV networks stand to lose a sizable chunk of the $1.2 billion in ad revenue the season usually generates.