By Dave DeWitte and Angela Holmes
CORRIDOR—The wave of fans heading to Kinnick Stadium for this fall’s University of Iowa home football games will leave a large trail of money in its wake – much of which doesn’t even make it to the Iowa City-Coralville area.
Businesses in outlying areas such as Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Williamsburg all report a boost from the tide of Hawkeye fans. And with Hawkeye ticket sales off to a sluggish start this year, they will be watching to see just how much business the Hawkeyes drum up.
Visitor spending for the seven home games in a season was found to be more than $100 million in a 2009 economic impact study by University of Iowa students, overseen by the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. An updated study will be conducted this year using an improved economic impact model, according to Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area CVB, and like the previous one, it will count only spending in Johnson County.
Mr. Schamberger appreciates every cent fans spend in Johnson County, but says he understands why fans end up spending elsewhere on their trips.
One reason is the limited number of hotel rooms available in Iowa City and Coralville. Although the number of rooms in Iowa City and Coralville continues to rise, Mr. Schamberger acknowledged the room base is still among the lowest of any Big 10 university community.
Another reason is the policies many Iowa City and Coralville hotels use to leverage maximum benefit from the busiest home game weekends.
“Wisely for them, many hotels in the Iowa City-Coralville area require a two-night minimum stay on home game weekends,” said Jean Rogers, director of sales at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids. “We don’t require that.”
Ms. Rogers said a home game weekend at UI can be great for the Hotel at Kirkwood Center, as some fans prefer driving 20 minutes or so to get away from the hustle and commotion around the university itself. Not all home weekends are profitable, she added, because in-state rivalry games and some non-conference games tend to yield either less attendance or fewer fans staying overnight.
The business spillover can also be attributed to the “spouse factor.” Tanger Outlets in Williamsburg can count on steady business on Hawkeye game days, according to General Manager Theresa Phillips.
“A lot of times the dads will go to the game and the moms will come shopping,” Ms. Phillips said.
The weather can play a big part in how many Hawkeye spouses come shopping on game day, added Ms. Phillips, with foul weather tending to hold the numbers down.
Whether eating and drinking establishments get a game-day bump can depend on their television-friendliness and their proximity to Kinnick Stadium.
Big Grove, a popular Solon brewpub, tends to go dead around game time and get a big lift afterward when fans stop for dinner on the way home, according to Dan Standley, Big Grove’s front-of-the-house manager.
Brick Arch Winery in West Branch tends to do significantly less business on UI home football Saturdays, according to owner Ilene Lande.
“People are focused on getting to the tailgating and getting to the game,” Ms. Lande said. On the Sundays after a game, Ms. Lande tends to see a lift in business from Hawkeye fans stopping on their trip home, but not enough to make up for the game day business slump.
Fireside Winery near Marengo often sees a surge of visitors on the Friday night before a Saturday game, said Cassie Bott, on-site manager.
“People who are coming for a weekend stop in,” she said.
Although business at Fireside is slow during the game, it picks up after the game –
especially if kickoff starts early.
In Marengo, just off Highway 6, P.H.A.T. Daddy’s restaurant receives its share of post-game business from fans traveling from Des Moines or other points west, according to owner/chef Mike Curry.
The restaurant, which serves such culinary delights as Mediterranean tilapia and homemade tortellini, has gained many repeat customers who travel on football weekends.
“They are kind of shocked to see such a nice restaurant in a small town,” Mr. Curry said.
While many establishments report a decline in business during the game, Red’s Alehouse in North Liberty experiences just the opposite.
With several televisions tuned into the game in the bar area, Red’s attracts fans who file in about an hour before kickoff to secure a good seat.
“The bar side fills up quickly,” said Brandon Ryan, general manager. “It’s a destination place to watch the game.”
If the game starts at 11 a.m., another post-game rush hits Red’s just in time for happy hour, which starts at 3 p.m.
“The whole city of North Liberty comes at once,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
Visiting football teams give another game day lift to one community outside Johnson County. The Clarion Hotel and Convention Center in Cedar Rapids can easily book 60 rooms when a visiting team stays, according to Linda Lovell, banquet sales manager. She says most visiting football teams like to stay outside Iowa City and Coralville to avoid the two-night minimum.
Large numbers of fans typically don’t stay in Cedar Rapids except on the biggest home games days when the Iowa City and Coralville hotels are fully booked, Ms. Lovell noted.
Mr. Schamberger said the Iowa City-Coralville cooperates with outlying hotels to coordinate bookings for individuals who call the CVB for help finding accommodations. E-mail and fax surveys of hotels are used to find out where rooms are available, and the CVB has referred guests as far out as the Quad Cities when the local hotel market is full.
Getting fans to extend their stays is one strategy the CVB has considered to increase visitor spending, but opportunities are somewhat limited, Mr. Schamberger said. After staying the two-day minimum in the local hotel market, he said most guests are ready to head home from their game weekend.
One of the newer approaches to extending fan stays was the Gran Gable, a 100-mile cycling event held last year on a post-game Sunday. Mr. Schaumberger said the event attracted more than 900 cyclists, some of whom were from cycling clubs as far away as Dubuque, and had attended the previous day’s UI home football game.
This year’s Hawkeye home season begins at 11 a.m. Aug. 30 against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers, who will be taking the field at 11 a.m.-