Aug. 11, 2004
Editor’s Note: The following was written by Vanessa Miller and first appeared in Aug. 11 editions of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
On a traditional fall Saturday in Iowa City, “The word is fight, fight, fight for Iowa,” can be heard echoing down Melrose Avenue outside Kinnick Stadium. “Let every loyal Iowan sing …”
And they do.
The University of Iowa football faithful travel hundreds of miles, plan for months in advance and spend thousands of dollars to attend Hawkeye home football games — making September through November one of the area’s most lucrative times of the year.
“And if you look at hotel occupancy, it has increased over the past year,” said Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Josh Schamberger of the community’s imminent economic surge. “That can be attributed to the success of the football program. If you look at hotel occupancy, every hotel is sold out. I don’t know when the last time was that hotels for every non-division game were sold out.”
Each home contest is estimated to result in more than $1.5 million in gas, hotel and food expenditures, according to a UI Institute for Economic Research report that studied the effect of home football games and other university events from 1994 to 2000. In 2000, visitors and non-students spent more than $1.49 million per game, far exceeding the $639,540 spent in 1994. The 1994 information did not include UI students.
“It would be conservative to say it brings in millions of dollars to restaurants, hotels, gas stations …,” Schamberger said. “A lot of businesses count on those weekends. It’s a huge impact.”
As of Monday, the Iowa State and Ohio State games were sold out, and sales had been suspended for the homecoming game against Michigan State. About 34,365 season tickets have been sold and fans can no longer buy the six-game season ticket package, officials said.
The Sept. 4 season-opener against Kent State — celebrating Kinnick Stadium’s 75th anniversary with a throwback game — is close to being sold out, officials said. Should that happen, Iowa might break the single-season attendance record.
According to Rick Klatt, associate UI athletic director, the climbing attendance says a lot about the football program and its fans.
“When you look at anywhere between 13,000 and 16,000 more people at the season opener than a year ago, and if you toy with the number of people staying for dinner, shopping or staying at a hotel, it’s a very positive thing for the Iowa City and Coralville community,” Klatt said. “There are more people planning on attending UI football games this year … and the trickle down effect is significant. It’s exciting for our football program.”
While crediting UI fans for not jumping on and off the “bandwagon,” he said the program’s recent success — they went 10-3 last year and 11-2 in 2002 — is the main reason ticket sales are up.
“When you look at anywhere between 13,000 and 16,000 more people at the season opener than a year ago, and if you toy with the number of people staying for dinner, shopping or staying at a hotel, it’s a very positive thing for the Iowa City and Coralville community. There are more people planning on attending UI football games this year … and the trickle down effect is significant. It’s exciting for our football program.”
UI Associate Athletic Director Rick Klatt
“I think quite clearly it’s a product of the team and the hard work of (coach Kirk Ferentz),” Klatt said, adding that the marketing department does a good job promoting the team. “But the reality is it’s a successful program, and we have a wonderful product to market.”
That product — UI’s 2004 football squad — is the reason six Saturdays this fall have been booked at Coralville’s Holiday Inn Hotel and Hampton Inn for more than three months.
“We start getting reservations as soon as the games are over, so about one year out,” said Jody Gingerich, director of sales for the Holiday and Hampton inns. “It’s wonderful, we love it. It’s one of our top producing seasons of the year.”
Jay Honeck, who owns Alexis Park Inn & Suites, 1165 S. Riverside Drive, agreed and said he has seen his numbers increase over the years.”It represents a good source of income for the fall season,” he said. “Let me put it this way: I wish there were more home football games. They should play all year.”
Local bar owners and retailers would second that, as many of the more than 70,000 fans that can fit into Kinnick head out to eat or shop after games.
“If it’s an afternoon or evening game, it’s crazy,” said Leah Cohen, owner of Bo-James Restaurant, 118 E. Washington St. “Business two to three times normal nights. … We love it, and I’m sure Coralville benefits as much and the Coral Ridge Mall. It has a tremendous impact on the whole area, not just downtown.”
Laura Ingleby, a 20-year-old UI junior from Marshalltown, often has ventured downtown after a football game to grab some dinner or go out with her friends.
“There is definitely a big boost for the town, especially with the hotels,” she said, adding that she worked at the Red Roof Inn in Coralville. “It was always packed.”
For Iowa Book & Supply, 8 S. Clinton St., football season yields thousands of Hawkeye paraphernalia-seeking shoppers.
“The rush that’s coming up is our Christmas of the year,” Iowa Book manager Kurt Vanderhoef said. “And if the football team does well, we get a second Christmas.”
The dispersement of Herky statues around town also has generated economic benefits, including a rush in sales of the 8-inch figurines available for pre-booking at Iowa Book. There are 75 statues scattered around town, with another 15 on the way, and Vanderhoef said all the statues will be re-created as miniature figurines and available for purchase.
About 400 of the statues have been reserved, and the first one, Ironman Herky, will be released in September.