IOWA CITY — Expectations for the Iowa Hawkeye football team are the highest they’ve been in several seasons, and what happens on the field has an effect well beyond Kinnick Stadium.
Representatives from businesses that cater to football fans, such as retailers, hotels and restaurants, say the team’s record has a direct correlation on their bottom lines.
“As the team goes, we go,” said J.J. Corkhill, general manager of the Black & Gold Shop in Coralville, which specializes in Hawkeye merchandise.
It’s not just how the Hawkeyes do that matters to businesses, however, but also who they play and when, the start time of the game, the weather and even what’s fashionable.
For home games, afternoon kickoffs versus a top-flight team, or at least a Big Ten Conference foe, cannot be beat, said Jim Mondanaro, who owns several Iowa City-area restaurants.
“Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State — when you’re playing Big Ten teams, that’s when football season begins for me,” he said.
There are signs the optimism of this season is not enough to fully shake off the 27-24 record Iowa has compiled the past four years, however. Football ticket sales are lagging.
So too are hotel room bookings, according to one general manager.
Make no mistake, though, Iowa football is big business for the Iowa City area.
A 2009 study projected Iowa’s seven-game home schedule had an economic impact of more than $100 million for Johnson County. The average game brought 51,000 visitors to the area, and the average travel party spent $944 if they stayed in a hotel and $233 if not.
Conference games that start in the afternoon or at night are especially good for hotels, said Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. That, too, is a byproduct of winning because successful teams get picked more often for those later starts.
The 2009 study — which was led by Schamberger’s organization with the help of a UI leisure studies class and the UI Athletics Department — used surveys conducted over two days when the Hawkeyes were playing at home as the fourth-ranked team in the country and were on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Schamberger said he would think the economic impact would have been lower if the study occurred when Iowa’s record was not as good. It will be updated during a home-game weekend this season.
The successful 2009 football campaign also was reflected in the royalties paid to the UI Athletics Department for officially licensed products, such as clothing, home items or just about anything associated with the school.
Those figures went from $2.4 million in the fiscal year that included the 2009 season, to $3.5 million the next year and then $3.7 million, before declining for two years and hitting $2.8 million last year.
Many retailers place orders the year before the items are in stores, said Dale Arens, the UI’s trademark licensing director
With licensed products, what is fashionable and the condition of the economy also play an important role, he said. And that market has been flat nationally for a couple years outside of sports programs that have been highly successful, he said.
“We need to avoid those obstacles by (teams) having good years,” Arens said.
Good years also help fill the seats at Kinnick Stadium.
After regularly selling out home games for nearly a decade, ticket sales fell last football season. The UI announced a month ago that thousands of tickets remained for each of Iowa’s seven home games, with Athletic Director Gary Barta finding it necessary to declare “the sky is not falling.”
If the team comes out of the gate strong, supply and demand will start working in the university’s favor, said Rick Klatt, associate athletics director of external relations
“Let’s be candid — winning is the biggest hammer in your toolbox,” he said.
IMPACT IS LOCAL
For some businesses, whether Iowa’s opponent is winning also matters.
The Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Coralville has 80 rooms. There have been times when they’ve had 100 cancellations for a weekend when a down Iowa team hosted a struggling opponent that had high expectations earlier in the season, General Manager Neal Roth recalled.
“If it starts to go sideways, it can really snowball in a hurry,” Roth said.
Hotel bookings heading into this football season are lagging more than he’s seen in his 14 years in the community — although he said that’s become the industry norm with booking windows shrinking as smartphone-savvy customers wait longer to make travel arrangements.
But he still links it to Iowa football.
“This is the slowest pace we’ve seen, and I find it odd because I think they’ll have a really good year,” Roth said.
There’s broad agreement among sports economists that large sporting events give a boost to the host community’s economy in the short term, said John Solow, a UI economist.
That doesn’t last, he added, although Iowa playing seven home games year after year makes it different from something like the Super Bowl.
Also, the economic impact is local. If someone from elsewhere in Iowa comes to Iowa City for a game, they may eat at a restaurant here, but they’re not spending their money at home. So the net gain within the state is minimal, Solow said.
When they come from out of state, Iowa sees the benefit, but the U.S. economy does not, he said.
Even within Iowa City, there are probably residents who avoid restaurants or shopping on game days because of the traffic and large crowds, Solow said.
“You have to be careful about all the offsetting stuff,” he said.
Even for Iowa City-area businesses not obviously linked to football, there’s an effect.
Increased foot traffic in downtown Iowa City gives M.C. Ginsberg jewelry store a chance to connect with more people, and they may turn to the store the next time they want to buy a diamond necklace or a watch, owner Mark Ginsberg said.
More people head downtown during store hours when games are in the afternoon or night, he said.
“If I had the retail wish that I want come true, I would stage the games at a time people would enjoy the shopping and pull the curtain back on the town,” Ginsberg said.