As many of you know my entire career has been spent in tourism and sports. I've gone into how you can help these industries today. If you're someone that is still collecting regular checks and care to have these things once restrictions are removed you should take ownership today. I wrote an entire article about this. This will be especially hard on smaller communities such as a West Lafayette, Iowa City, Pullman or State College. Even the schools that do plan to play will take a big hit. Think: Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Clemson.
With a potential cancellation of a college football season how do I see this playing out? I'm going to put on my Master's in Sport Management hat to take a crack.
1. Furloughs of staffs with the exception of absolutely essential employees.
I would expect to see this happening for any game day staff, but if there are no media contracts to fulfill this is when the layoff/furloughs could get bad. Outside of merchandise sales, how do you make money? You could go the route of some art museums and auction off some luxury pieces of merchandise that have no real place in the current or future narrative of your school. Basically hold an auction or a yard sale.
2. Cutting sports that are neither profit generators, haven't seen recent large infusions of investment nor are used to balance the gender scholarship scale.
Football is the 10,000 pound elephant in the room of every D-1 athletic department. Dozens of them produce well into the eight or nine digit revenue streams. However, the truth is there should only be a fraction of the number of teams there are nationwide if we're just looking at profit margins. These major football programs also occupy 85 scholarships and need to be matched proportionately from women's sports. Some schools get clever with this by financing teams like women's rowing that is relatively cheap to operate and have major rosters. In most cases the female equivalent sports have a handful of addition scholarships as opposed to the male counterparts.
What I could see happening is an athletic department placing schools into three buckets: Profit Generators, Gender Scholarship Balancers or Recent Large Investments. What I mean by this is your profit generators are likely football and men's basketball. Your gender scholarship balancers are basically what I described in the above paragraph and there are other programs that for the sake of timing have seen large financial investments int their facilities or teams. If you're a sport that doesn't clearly go in any of those three buckets I'd start to worry. Universities at the highest level only need to have I believe 17 varsity sports to keep their status. You've already seen this start to happen around the country, probably most highlights by Stanford cutting 11 sports.
3. Eating into financial reserves that might have been earmarked for facility improvements or budget increases.
Make no bones about it, major college football is an arms race. Who has the biggest recruiting budget? Who has the most swagged out locker rooms? It's all about the bells and whistles to attract recruits. Without great players it is obviously difficult to win. What could credibly happen is improvement projects that aren't coming directly from a donor could get postponed or even cancelled.
As this carries over into communities.....I'll take off my sports hat and put back on my tourism hat.
1. Minimal overnight stays
This is a no-duh item. If there is no event to go to, then you simply won't stay. College sports is an event driven business and without crowds there is no reason to come. The only overnight options I could possibly see doing well through all of this is remote home shares and possibly resort style locations with the capacity to social distance.
2. Slow restaurants
This is a no duh. Many restaurants operate on razor thin margins during the best of times. A prolonged dead period is taking the razor to the juggler of some restaurants throughout the country. When restaurants or even whole complexes (i.e. St. Louis' Ballpark Village) depend on pre-game and post-game crowds to make hay when the sun in shining it is hard, if not impossible to turn in a positive year. In university towns slow summers are often cured by busy falls. I would expect fall to be busier with students returning, but all of restrictions of not being able to move around freely to talk to other groups will be a huge hindrance.
3. Retail stores taking a beating
If I ran a local popular retail store I would really double down on a social media push out to the alumni of whatever school I was at for merchandise. Really pull on that tearjerker emotion of missing out on a season. If you aren't active through eCommerce, you should get on the ball quickly.
Once again HELP THESE BUSINESSES TODAY! If you're still getting paid, don't stay home for every meal or cancel your travel plans. This is especially true if you are driving to your destination. Buy gift cards from these businesses, shop local, buy from them online and share your experiences with friends.
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.