A growing number of major college sports conferences have decided to limit the exposure of athletes, fans and staff to the risk of coronavirus by scaling-back fall sports competitions to conference-only foes.
The move will affect Indiana University and Purdue University athletics, as well as college communities and the revenue typically generated by out of town visitors.
“This is a blow to our hospitality industry,” said Jo Wilson Wade, president and chief executive officer of Visit Lafayette-West Lafayette. “But really we are grateful for the possibility of any football games being hosted in 2020. “
The Pac-12 conference followed the Big Ten last week in going to a conference-only model for fall sports.
“Who knows where we’ll stand two weeks from now with this pandemic, but I have to think this is something all other conferences are probably going to look at too,” said Nathaniel Grow, associate professor of business law at Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
Losing the visitors and the money generated in ticket sales, hotel stays, and restaurant visits is the latest setback for communities already struggling with the economic losses stemming from the pandemic.
‘You’ve got millions of dollars for every one of these games,” said Grow. “Canceling those restaurants that are already hurting, the hotels that are already hurting all those tangential businesses around these towns, small towns that are going to be losing, even more revenue that they depend on to get through the year.”
Wade says during a normal, non-COVID, season, Purdue football games generated $2 to $3 million in the community per game and conservatively $20 million for the season.
Heading into this season, the tourism bureau was already looking at much lower revenue with travel restrictions and social distancing in place. The Big Ten decision doesn’t help.
“Maybe less than half that with lower attendance and only 4 games,” said Wade.
Beyond the loss to revenue to college towns, Grow said there is also the possibility of lost revenue for athletic departments. He said teams from smaller conferences are often paired against teams in larger conferences earlier in the football season.
For instance, Ball State University was scheduled to play the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on September 12. Grow says those early-season matchups usually result in much-needed revenue for smaller athletic departments like BSU.
While he is not familiar with the particulars of the contract, he said games like that can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and higher.
He said contractual clauses, such as a natural disaster, may allow some universities to forego the payment.
“It might have to be paid out, even though the games aren’t playing. either. So, there’s a lot in flux,” said Grow. “In some cases, you have teams that have a $25 million – $30 million athletic budget in the smaller conferences, and a couple million of that might come out of a couple of these football games that those aren’t paid. That’s a pretty big chunk of change out of a budget.”
The Big Ten also left open the possibility of an outright cancellation of the football season. As universities reopen in August, health officials say there is a possibility there could be a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. If that happens, the season could be in jeopardy.
“As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate,” said the Big Ten conference. “We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,”
Grow said Bloomington and West Lafayette would be hurt more than larger communities in the conference, such as Columbus, Ohio, which has a broader economic base and is less reliant on university events.
“So much of the college spirit surrounds those Saturdays, having the alums come back. It’s definitely going to be a strange time if there’s no football at all. But missing those early seasons games will put a strange vibe on campus,” Grow said.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, IU Kelley School of Business Professor Nathaniel Grow says how schools may be required to pay out for games not even played.