Big Red Business: Business is booming, with the return of sports fans
While the onset of the pandemic last spring shut down or sharply curtailed businesses that thrived in Nebraska football and other Husker sports, no one knew when the end would be in sight.
How long would fans be required to stay away from Memorial Stadium, Devaney Center and Haymarket Park? Would the hotels, bars, restaurants, and sporting goods merchants that rely on large weekend sports crowds survive to see better days ahead, and would fans be in a spending mood?
This spring is a whole different story. Judging by the turnout this past weekend for the Nebraska Red-White Spring Soccer Game, a three-game home series featuring the nationally ranked Nebraska baseball team and the thousands of contenders for the annual Lincoln Marathon, it’s safe to say that business is rebounding.
Consider this triple plan of events:
* With participation capped at 50% of capacity, more than 36,400 fans paid $ 10 per ticket to attend Saturday’s spring football game on a sunny day at Memorial Stadium.
At kick-off, it was the third-largest crowd for an American sporting event since the pandemic began, topped only by the roughly 47,000 Alabama fans who attended Tide’s spring game in mid- April and the 38,238 fans who attended the Texas Rangers opening. one-day baseball game at Globe Life Field. Later that same day, the Kentucky Derby drew 51,838 after the Red-White match ended.
By the way, Alabama charged $ 5 for general admission tickets and the limited capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 50% for the spring game.
* Cornhusker baseball fans came out in droves for a three-game weekend streak against Rutgers. Maximum capacity was increased at the end of April from 2,700 to around 6,100 fans, or 75% of a full room. NU drew 5,013 Friday, 4,653 Saturday 4,422 Sunday in the three-game series against the Scarlett Knights.
* Over 4,300 runners – in person and virtually – competed in the annual Lincoln Marathon Sunday.
Add it all up, and it’s a lot of people spending money again in and around the entertainment venues of downtown Lincoln, in the shadow of Memorial Stadium.
“This highly anticipated series of events (provided) a big boost to merchants and hotels,” particularly in the Haymarket area near campus, said Wendy Birdsall, chief executive of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.
Home football weekends in Nebraska generate at least $ 4 million in economic activity per game, according to a widely cited study from the Office of Business Research at the University of Nebraska. Birdsall said the big sports weekend in Lincoln undoubtedly resulted in millions of dollars in the city’s economy.
For example, she added, hotels in the area were expecting occupancy rates of over 60% – a figure that has not been seen for some time.
Another business pop is expected this weekend as families arrive for early spring in Nebraska.
The fans in the stands
When it comes to hosting intrasquad spring football games with fans in the stands, no school in the conference does it bigger than Nebraska.
Not even the state of Ohio.
The Buckeyes limited seating in their April 17 spring game to 19,180 fans, with 10,000 free tickets for frontline medical and security personnel. Approximately 4,500 tickets were made available to the general public for $ 5 each. The remaining seats went to students and families of football players and coaches.
Some Big Ten schools threw spring games in front of fans for the second year in a row, including Wisconsin and Indiana. Iowa held open practices on April 17 and again last Saturday, but did not host a spring game. The Minnesota Spring Game was open to 10,000 fans on Saturday at no cost.
Elsewhere, seating at the April 24 Spring Game in Oklahoma drew about 21,000 fans, with a seating capacity limited to 25%, as did the Fall 2020 regular season. The Clemson Spring Game has played in front of around 17,100 fans, while Texas A&M drew 17,612 fans.
Get back to normal
Brandon Akert, co-owner of Gate 25 restaurant and bar in Haymarket, said he had made a “fabulous oversight” over the weekend.
“Our sales have almost tripled expectations,” Akert said on Sunday. “We were expecting a crowd and we were not disappointed.” The tables were full inside and out, he said.
Akert said that revenues tended to increase in March and April, that May has started off on a high note, and he feels happy with the sales momentum heading into fall. His biggest problem? Find enough help with cooking and serving.
Crowds weren’t limiting their weekend spending to restaurants and bars. For example, the Best of Big Red clothing and souvenir store “had its best Friday and Saturday for a 20-25% spring game weekend,” owner Mike Osborne said. “It’s quite significant.”
People were in a good mood and seemed to enjoy being able to walk around. Some wore masks, some weren’t, and, refreshingly, it looked like people had “forgotten about the cloud we’ve been living in for so long,” Osborne said.
“It has been concerning and interesting to see the whole arc of the impact of the virus on businesses,” Osborne said,
He said there was virtually no retailing last April and May in his store, but since those lows his sales have steadily increased. Revenue for last June was around 40% of normal, but has risen to around 85% of normal through March, Osborne said.
Sales of Husker baseball “Bolt Ball” and “Gritty beats Pretty” shirts have been big sellers, he said, and a new line of recently arrived spring products are also expected to sell.
“I hope April and May will be really close to 100%” of normal business, he said. Confident that he will meet those sales targets, Osborne told employees he plans to restart a bonus and incentive program in May.
“I expect a return (after the pandemic) to normal and I hope the Huskers have a bunch of wins,” Osborne said.
Randy Farwell, owner of clothing and merchandise company CornBorn, said he weathered storm Covid-19. “Since our business is primarily online,” said Farwell, “we generally take advantage of fans buying new clothing before Husker sporting events. In fact, we see a marked increase in activity every year for about two weeks before the annual spring game. This spring was no exception.
Although he said third-quarter 2020 sales fell significantly due to uncertainty surrounding the recovery of women’s football and volleyball, CornBorn finished the year with its best all four quarters and the season. holidays thanks in large part to online activities, Farwell said.
Farwell also branched out, now holding licenses to sell clothing from 11 NCAA schools. That should boost 2021 sales, he added, as well as his clothing business in Nebraska as fans return to the stadiums.
“The pandemic has further accelerated the trend of shopping for clothes online,” Farwell said. “We are fortunate to be able to take advantage of this trend.”
Steve Rosen writes about sports affairs for HuskerOnline. Contact Steve with questions, comments, and story ideas at [email protected]