Florida’s college football programs bring big bucks to their local communities.
The fact that major college football and basketball have become “big business” isn’t exactly news. The proof is in the lawsuits over the use of player likenesses in merchandising and the Northwestern University players’ efforts to unionize. The dollars have become huge, and everyone involved in big-time college sports is angling for a share.
But what about the communities that are home to these universities? According to Florida TaxWatch, they are reaping significant benefits as well. In its August “Economic Commentary,” the organization pulled from a variety of existing studies and reports to demonstrate how college programs — especially successful ones — can pay dividends beyond campus boundaries.
Looking at college football’s defending national champion, the Florida State Seminoles, TaxWatch said studies indicate the team can have an economic impact on Tallahassee ranging from $1.5 million for a low-level non-conference game (think the Sept. 6 Citadel game) to $5 million for a conference game (Wake Forest on Oct. 4) to $10 million for “premier” and “top end” games (Notre Dame on Oct. 18 and Florida on Nov. 29).
The heightened activity comes from increased restaurant business, apparel sales and hotel room revenues. Though the studies are inconclusive as to whether this economic activity boost leads to increased employment or salaries, TaxWatch indicates “the increase in sales tax collections alone is an important benefit” because it keeps local tax revenues strong without the need for a rate increase. This is especially notable in smaller communities. Three of the seven Florida universities playing at college football’s highest level are located in cities with less than 200,000 people: Florida State (Tallahassee), Florida (Gainesville) and Florida Atlantic (Jupiter).
And you can add a pot of gold in Ireland estimated at $50 million in economic impact for UCF’s season opener against Penn State in Dublin on Aug. 30. (UCF lost, 26-24.)
Bobble-head giveaways may be fun, but fielding competitive teams and a state-of-the-art stadium remain the keys to putting people in the seats.
Witness the Miami Marlins. When Marlins Park opened to rave reviews in 2012, fans initially flocked to the stadium. As the team headed toward 93 losses, attendance dropped precipitously. The trend continued last year, when the Marlins lost 100 games and finished next-to-last in attendance, averaging 19,584 fans (barely half of Marlin Park’s 37,000-seat capacity).
Things are changing in South Florida. As of late August, Miami was only two games below .500 and just 5½ games back in the wild card race. Fans are noticing. Attendance has jumped by an average 2,000 per game and is approaching 60 percent of capacity.
As for the Tampa Bay Rays, the team is poised to finish last in average attendance for the third straight year, despite 90 wins in 2012, a 2013 playoff appearance and a record this year that was only one game worse than the Marlins. The facility is the key. As previously reported here, the team and Tampa Bay leaders are seeking to create a new home in the area for the Rays.
As the “world’s most popular sport,” soccer continues to take root in the U.S. Now Seminole County and Orlando City Soccer are teaming up to give youth soccer new fields and the Orlando Lions a top-notch training facility. As part of an agreement with the county, Orlando City will build four new soccer fields for county residents near Lake Mary while the team will be given exclusive use of the county’s Sylvan Park training center and two adjacent soccer fields.
UNIFORM CHANGES (College Edition).
We previously examined the financial forces that helped drive the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2014 uniform changes. Those same forces — and more — also are at work in college football.
As TaxWatch reported, the Gators rank sixth nationally in apparel sales, and Florida State used its national championship run to jump from 21st to seventh in sales. UCF and USF also rank in the Top 75.
But, college football uniform changes have as much to do with appealing to prospective recruits as with merchandising revenues. Seventeen-year-olds like multiple flashy uniforms, and the Oregon Ducks are the poster child for translating gaudy uniforms into a championship-caliber football team. Florida schools are getting in on the act.
USF, which already has several combinations, has added matte green and chrome gold helmets. Florida State now has garnet helmets, black jerseys and black pants from which to choose. Florida Atlantic may be adding red helmets and has made minor jersey changes. Florida International added gold pants and changed its helmet color
slightly. No announced changes for Florida but the Gators and Georgia both will wear home jerseys for their annual showdown in Jacksonville. There also are no known changes to UCF’s uniforms.
So, it falls to Miami to shake up the Florida football fashion world. The Hurricanes, which heretofore limited options to a couple of jerseys and pants colors, suddenly have orange, green and black helmets to go along with the classic white. Black jerseys and pants join the existing orange and green options.
The possible combinations are enough to make an Oregon Duck blush.