CORONAVIRUS

Who benefits when college football returns with no fans?

Bar and restaurant owners hope televised games will draw in customers

An empty Kinnick Stadium is seen beyond a locked gate Sept. 5 in Iowa City. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
An empty Kinnick Stadium is seen beyond a locked gate Sept. 5 in Iowa City. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — The return of Hawkeye football — even without fans in the stands — should be a boon to some businesses, especially those serving food.

The Big Ten on Wednesday announced the return of football beginning Oct. 23-24 with an eight-week schedule and a weekend of seeded-divisional matchups — nine games — but without fans in the stands.

While Iowa City and Coralville’s hard-hit hotel/motel industry won’t be seeing fans filling their rooms on weekends this fall, other industries are likely to benefit from the Big Ten decision, according to Josh Schamberger, president of Think Iowa City, formerly known as the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“I think it moves the needle for certainly the restaurants and bars,” he said. “Whether or not we’re going to be in an environment where that can be encouraged remains to be seen because we’re obviously still dealing with COVID.”

But with the games on television, Schamberger said he can envision fans returning to their favorite bars and restaurants to load up on nachos, wings and other appetizers and watch the game on the big screen.

Restaurateurs he’s spoken with are happy about the plans to bring back football, Schamberger said.

Past studies have shown the economic impact of Hawkeye football is greater than $120 million in a season.

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The home games mean thousands of visitors patronize hotels, restaurants and bars, retailers, transportation companies and other businesses.

Many of those industries, Schamberger said, had been bracing for a season without football, which would be devastating to their bottom line.

Some businesses had been holding out hope for a spring football season and a partial return of normalcy and fans. But Schamberger said a spring season wasn’t something that could be counted on.

“There’s no guarantee if there was a spring season we’d still have fans,” he said.

Throughout the pandemic, economic development groups — Think Iowa City, the Downtown District, the Iowa City Area Development Group and the Iowa City Area Business Partnership — have come up with ideas to spur support of local businesses.

Schamberger said he hopes the return of football will lead to more of those opportunities.

“We’ll get all of our creative teams together and find new and creative ways to keep those businesses going forward the best we can,” he said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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