wins benefits for Central Virginia
by Matthew Worden
Fourth in a series
a warm afternoon in September, and Cavalier fans converge on Scott
Stadium. The lines at the entrance gates stream out to the sidewalk,
and nearby, tailgaters stow their gear. Excitement and the twang
of bluegrass fill the air. Kickoff is an hour away.
Replayed throughout the fall football season, this scene underscores
the success of the University of Virginia’s 2000 decision
to expand Scott Stadium to 60,000 seats.
“We try to give U.Va. sports fans a good, exciting experience
so they’re eager to come back,” said Craig Littlepage,
U.Va. director of athletics.
“We host hundreds of athletic events that bring hundreds
of thousands of people to the University and to Charlottesville
to celebrate the connection folks have to this institution.”
sports successes have fueled U.Va.’s reputation as a premier
academic institution offering top athletic programs. They include
last spring’s national lacrosse championship and swimmer
Ed Moses’ qualification for the 2000 Olympic Games. Men’s
and women’s basketball programs also compete at high levels.
But in terms of producing revenue for the University and the surrounding
community, football is far and away the leader. During the 2001-02
academic year, the U.Va. football program brought in $12.8 million
from ticket sales, broadcast payments, bowl-game receipts, concession
sales and other sources. Expenses related to
football scholarships, recruiting, equipment and supplies, salaries,
food and other items ran to $9.2 million — leaving about
$3.6 million to support other, non-revenue-producing sports programs.
The football program is growing, thanks to several factors, including
the $86 million renovation of Scott Stadium, the national visibility
brought to the program by the hiring of head coach Al Groh and
the success of football alumni, including Ronde and Tiki Barber,
both now playing for National Football League teams.
“U.Va.’s television exposure to millions of people,
especially when we field a successful team, not only showcases
our athletic talent but also our sports facilities,
which have won national awards for design,” Littlepage said.
years ago, average attendance at football games was 38,340; last
year it reached 56,428, an increase of 47 percent. Season ticket
sales likewise grew from 23,957 a decade ago to more than 36,000
this year, setting a sales record.
Many fans are local — more than 5,000 season ticket-holders
live in Charlottesville. But well over 4,000 others live in Richmond;
more than 2,000, in Northern Virginia; and more than 1,000 each,
in Tidewater, Lynchburg, the Shenandoah Valley and Southside Virginia.
And when out-of-town fans come to Charlottesville to watch the
game, they come for the day. Or the weekend.
“We’re entirely booked, both Friday and Saturday nights,
on home football weekends,” said Chris Clore, general manager
of Best Western Cavalier Inn. “Football has a phenomenal
impact on our business.”
Rick Butts, director of sales for the Omni Charlottesville Hotel,
said his hotel’s 208 rooms are filled on football weekends
— as are most of the 3,200 hotel rooms in the Charlottesville
area. “Football weekends and graduation are the hardest
weekends to find a hotel room in Charlottesville,” he said.
Football games typically bring more money into the community than
other sports because they’re relatively long, easily lasting
four hours, said Andrew Rader, director of sports promotions.
So, instead of driving in to catch a game and driving home the
same night, many fans build a relaxing day or a weekend getaway
around the game.
And local retailers, bars and restaurants, as well as hotels,
Sean Lawford, executive chef of Bizou, a popular restaurant on
the Downtown Mall, said that a football game generally means serving
an additional 20 to 30 people on an already busy weekend night.
Michael’s Bistro and Taphouse, a Corner hangout, also sees
a significant increase in business volume on game days, both for
meals and for bar business, said Janet Heath, manager, “especially
if U.Va. wins.”
The increasing popularity of tailgating has meant a slide in sales
at Sloan’s Restaurant on game days, said Carolyn Johnson,
floor manager, but Big Jim’s Catering & Picnic Co. has
climbed on the tailgating bandwagon by serving up salads and barbecue
by the pound, according to Bucky McCauley, an ABC manager at Big
Jim’s. Sales are strongest when U.Va. is playing a tough
rival, such as Virginia Tech or Florida State, McCauley said.
Local grocery stores also see a spike in sales on game days.
“All three Charlottesville Kroger stores experience a significant
increase in sales on home football game days,” said Archie
Fralin, public relations manager for Kroger Mid-Atlantic. “Our
volume on fried chicken, beer, mixers, soft drinks, chips, salads,
cheeses and other convenience, tailgating foods jumps 18 percent
above normal.” Party trays of snacks, cheeses, sandwiches,
chicken wings and relishes also are popular, he said.
Based on data gathered by the Virginia Tourism Corp., John Knapp,
research director of business and economics at the U.Va. Weldon
Cooper Center for Public Service, estimates that visitors to Charlottesville
spend an average $45 per person per day. He figures that visitors
who attend U.Va.-related
events — although not exclusively athletic events —
contribute an estimated $58 million a year to the local economy.
Area residents whose livelihoods are tied to running a collegiate
sports program also benefit. U.Va.’s Department of Athletics
has a roster of 97 faculty members, including coaches and senior
administrators, on a payroll of $8.6 million, and 74 classified
employees, including those involved in administrative support,
facilities management and housekeeping, on a payroll of $2.8 million,
according to Keith Vanderbeek, associate director of athletics.
The concession stands at U.Va. sports events provide additional
local employment to contracted vendors, noted Jason Bauman, associate
director of athletics.
The University’s vision for its future has included upgrading
athletic facilities, and friends and alumni have responded generously.
Several large gifts to the Department of Athletics have enabled
the University to develop modern facilities and programs, not
only for football, but also for soccer and lacrosse, baseball
and, most recently, basketball. Ground was broken this year for
the $129.8 million John Paul Jones Arena, which will replace aging
University Hall as the home of Virginia men’s and women’s
The multipurpose, special events arena is the largest of the more
than 20 construction projects, valued at more than half a billion
dollars, the University now has under way or in planning. All
of these — not just the athletic facilities —strengthen
the area’s construction industry.
“Without U.Va., we would probably only have about one-quarter
of our employees, and wages and benefits would be a lot less,”
said Doug Horn, vice president of Martin/Horn Inc., a local builder
that employs about 100 people and built Klöckner Stadium.
“All you have to do is to go into the [Shenandoah] Valley
and see the market — the kinds of wages and benefits people
pay in the construction industry — to get an idea of what
the market would be like here without U.Va.”
Along with these tangible, economic benefits, Cavalier football
also offers intangible benefits to the region. Television airtime
raises the national visibility not only of the University, but
also of Central Virginia, Littlepage noted.
And sports events help unify a community, he said. “Athletics
bring diverse groups of people together.”
Cavalier athletes bring diverse groups
together like little else in the community, says U.Va. athletic
director Craig Littlepage. And many come from from out of town,
filling local hotels and eateries.