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Guest Column: No Football, No Business For Many College Towns

Caleb Martin: Clemson, S.C. could get hit especially hard if fans are barred from games this fall …

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by CALEB MARTIN ||  Since its inception, college football has dug its way into our hearts, conversations, loyalties and more importantly – our pockets. And while there are a million talking heads already weighing in on the impacts of the coronavirus on college athletics and the money it takes to run these behemoth conglomerates (here, here, and here), very few of them are talking about the microeconomic impact that “football without fans” would force upon college towns.

Being more worried about their tailgates or season tickets has caused many non-business owners to begin thinking about the ramifications of having no fans in attendance at their beloved restaurants and bars within their favorite college town.

One town that would certainly take a hit should fan attendance be reduced or eliminated this year is Clemson, S.C. – home of the three-time national champion Clemson Tiger football team. While other college towns in this state would certainly take a hit, Columbia, S.C. isn’t anywhere near as reliant upon the revenue stream of college students and the crowds that congregate seven Saturdays each fall.

If you take a walk through downtown Clemson right now, you will still see the stores and restaurants and locals that make it such a special place. However, you’ll immediately notice something is off … there are hardly any students in town. Every college town sees an exodus of potential customers each summer when the students leave, and many businesses count down the days until classes start back in the fall. Yet this year, the mass exodus of potential customers was bigger – and happened sooner than any business had planned – due to the virus.

Instead of seeing students straggle back home the first week of May, Clemson businesses saw their customers flee the city some two months prior when it was determined the remainder of classes would be conducted online – and on-campus housing would be closing for the vast majority of students. This left many college town businesses, not just those in Clemson, scrambling with having to financially prepare for not only a slow summer, but a seemingly nonexistent spring.            

Having talked to a few Clemson area businesses and hotels, the usual slowdown of business in the summer is easy to prepare for given the fact that between fall (especially the fall) and spring semesters, business is booming. But this time, it’s different. Some local businesses have even temporarily closed up shop until students return back to campus.

Yet, many are now worried that a lack of on-campus summer courses – and no camps being held on campus – will cause severe harm to the local economy. They are also worried this harm will be exponentially expanded if there is a regulation or reduction of fan attendance at football games this fall.

One of the more outspoken proponents of having fans in attendance at college athletic events this fall (specifically college football) has been Clay Travis. A look at his social media (or a listen to his radio show) will lead you to believe there will be fans in the stands this fall.

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(Via: Columbia SC Photographer Travis Bell)

However, even Travis can’t seem to predict how many fans we are talking about. Will stadiums open at full capacity? Fifty percent capacity? Twenty-five percent capacity? And if fans can’t go inside to the game – can they still tailgate outside?

All of these questions are already being asked by local business owners in an attempt to prepare for what their futures may hold.  After discussing these possibilities with one Clemson restaurant owner – who makes as much during the seven home games each fall as he does all summer – his fear is many local businesses will be forced to close down should the worst case scenario actually take place.

This isn’t meant to sound like a doom and gloom article, it is simply intended to make readers aware of the other ramifications of what no college football, or a severely limited fan attendance would do to your favorite, and nostalgic, eateries. As of now we can simply hope for the best and spend our money at those businesses that have provided us with countless meals and memories that tie us back to our college days.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

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Caleb Martin is a professor of accounting at Erskine College and resident of Greenville, S.C.

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Banner: Columbia SC Photographer Travis Bell

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