When UT football team falters, hotels, restaurants and retailers lose, too

As the University of Tennessee football team struggles, retailers such as Goody’s
Family Clothing on North Peters Road that sell UT-themed merchandise see
sales fall.

Photo by Clay Owen

As the University of Tennessee football team struggles, retailers such as Goody’s Family Clothing on North Peters Road that sell UT-themed merchandise see sales fall.

As the University of Tennessee football team struggles, retailers such as Goody’s
Family Clothing on North Peters Road that sell UT-themed merchandise see
sales fall.

Photo by Clay Owen // Buy this photo

As the University of Tennessee football team struggles, retailers such as Goody’s Family Clothing on North Peters Road that sell UT-themed merchandise see sales fall.

Photo with no caption

Photo by Clay Owen // Buy this photo

Whether it's a missed field goal, a fumbled handoff or an untimely penalty, miscues on the gridiron are hard to swallow for the University of Tennessee's players, coaches and fans. But when the Vols start piling up losses, the impact can be felt a long way from the 50-yard line.

With this year's football team so far mired in more losses than wins, the profit margins of some local merchants are getting sacked. From the hotels that house out-of-town fans and the Friday-night watering holes to the retailers with orange and white on the shelves, frustration in Big Orange Country is showing up at the cash register.

Bo Connor, chief operating officer at Connor Concepts, said one of his company's restaurants had two large parties that had booked Friday-night reservations before this weekend's game with Mississippi State but canceled them "pretty much because the Vols are not doing well." Knoxville-headquartered Connor Concepts' roster of restaurants includes Connor's, The Chop House and Regas.

"I've been around for a long time (and) went to UT," Connor said, "but there's certainly an impact in the community with people going out to restaurants in good years versus bad."

Connor said the impact from this year's football skid has been magnified by a struggling economy, which has affected consumer spending decisions across the country. On Wednesday, for example, the U.S. Commerce Department announced that September's retail sales estimates were 1.2 percent below August figures, a number that - according to The Associated Press - was almost double the 0.7 percent drop analysts expected.

"It's kind of a two-edged sword that's hit here at the same time," said Jed Dance, vice president at Bacon & Co., a wholesaler of UT merchandise.

Dance said his company's sales are down a little bit but said this has been a unique year since his company has offered new products like a line of Vol-themed paisley handbags that have been "extremely successful."

"It's a ladies-type item and it's a fashion item," he said, "so … as we get into more fashion stuff, yes wins and losses affect it, but not as drastically."

For local hoteliers, a sub-par football team can have an impact at the concierge desk and at the bar. Scott Bullock, general manager of the Knoxville Hilton, estimated that his hotel had reduced rates for this weekend by $50 across the board and that he still had a half-dozen rooms available for the Alabama game.

"And I will fill those within two weeks' time," he said, "but people are leery, I think. They're waiting to see what's going to happen next."

And when their team is vanquished, some fans apparently aren't eager to linger over a meal. Ken Knight, general manager of the Crowne Plaza, said that hotel's restaurant and lounge business is down around 15 percent compared to similar weekends last year.

"Breakfast on a Sunday morning after a loss is slower than on a Sunday morning after a win," he said.

And why is that?

"Well, I think the Tennessee fans are a little bit discouraged," Knight said. "And so rather than get up and have breakfast and talk about the game, they just get up and go home."

Revenues are even down at Neyland Stadium, where concession revenue added up to $1,448,000 through the first three home games of 2008, compared to $1,567,000 in 2007. In an e-mail, UT Athletics Department spokeswoman Tiffany Carpenter said concession sales are linked to kickoff times, with the highest sales during games that kick off at 12:30. Unlike this year's home opener against Alabama-Birmingham, none of the first three games in 2007 kicked off at 12:30.

Not all the news is bad, though. According to the Athletics Department, university licensing royalties in the July-September quarter already have surpassed the same period last year - $1.3 million in 2008 compared to $1.04 million in 2007 - even though the September figures for 2008 haven't yet been tallied.

As an example, royalties from a firm called North Pole LLC - which produces nonapparel gameday products like tailgate gear that is available at Walmart - checked in at nearly $123,000 this year, compared to only $3,275 last year.

And even when the pigskin is bouncing the wrong way, fans of UT's resurgent men's hoops team may be feeling optimistic. Shay Riggs, manager of UT-themed retail store Tennessee Traditions on campus, said football jerseys haven't been selling very well compared to last year but that a lot of customers have asked for autographable basketballs, perhaps in anticipation of men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl's scheduled in-store appearance during Homecoming weekend on Nov. 8.

Basketball season is under way, with the men beginning practice on Friday and fan enthusiasm spilling into the aisles of retailers selling that gear. Lady Vols merchandise, given the women's basketball team's phenomenal success, also has been a big seller.

When it comes to economic impact, though, it's hard for basketball to match the clout of a football team, which can draw more than 100,000 fans to Neyland Stadium.

Bullock of the Hilton said a lot of the basketball attendance is local.

"So basketball's exciting, it's fun," he said. "But it doesn't have the financial impact into the city that football does."

Business writer Josh Flory may be reached at 865-342-6994.

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Comments » 14

tnbigg writes:

Hooray for Phulmer and his little army of Phil-Osophers...ME FIRST IS ALL THAT MATTERS! Hooray!

tnbigg writes:

Local economy? Dang the local economy! ME FIRST FULL SPEED AHEAD!!!! Phil-Osophy 101!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Hi! Billy Mays here. Buy one sweatshirt with a 11x14 SUPERimposed shot of Phil for only $19.95.

Wait, call RIGHT now and we'll throw in a extra case of 24 for only $1.00 more.

Have your credit card ready and call BR-549.

tnbigg writes:

in response to pdhuff#552644:

Hi! Billy Mays here. Buy one sweatshirt with a 11x14 SUPERimposed shot of Phil for only $19.95.

Wait, call RIGHT now and we'll throw in a extra case of 24 for only $1.00 more.

Have your credit card ready and call BR-549.

Did you see my message about darter futures and the alternative energy plan of T. Boone Pickens?

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to tnbigg:

Did you see my message about darter futures and the alternative energy plan of T. Boone Pickens?

What thread? I did every thing from talk to our deer hunters (scouting) to digging deck post holes to trimming bushes Sat.

Usual nervous energy.

tnbigg writes:

in response to pdhuff#552644:

What thread? I did every thing from talk to our deer hunters (scouting) to digging deck post holes to trimming bushes Sat.

Usual nervous energy.

Here it is a la cut & paste posting tehnique # 103-b section 777 of the Phil-Osophical code of ethics in posting ensemble in three part harmony; with careful anaylsis of potential conflicts of Phil-Osophical pre-qualaified judgements under Chapter 3 Sub Section HAM-l-ton re: National Championship and proper ring attire and disply on television shows 1989:
----------------------
It was. They were so exhuberrent and uninhibited in their zeal as one can plainly see. I guess it's fun to a part of the bandwagon...as for me? No thanks. By the way...I don't know if you noticed how the darter futures are skyrocketing...better keep your prize darters hidden away...tough times and people are looking for darters as a way to increase their personal wealth. I think it was said that T. Boone Pickens alternative fuel initiative involves darter fuel technology...so...just a heads up...

On Report card: UT vs. Mississippi State

ncvol writes:

I have a diner in NC and our sales are down. The economy does have a lot to do with sales.

Of course, In Knoxville we have to remember that they are charging admission of $15 to the students and that alone leaves the kids without funds to eat, by souvenirs, and put gas in the tank. I knew the student section was going to suffer this year since they used to get in the games for free. They picked the wrong time to raise ticket prices. Just my opinion...
Go Vols - Beat Bama.....

stormblast writes:

in response to ncvol:

I have a diner in NC and our sales are down. The economy does have a lot to do with sales.

Of course, In Knoxville we have to remember that they are charging admission of $15 to the students and that alone leaves the kids without funds to eat, by souvenirs, and put gas in the tank. I knew the student section was going to suffer this year since they used to get in the games for free. They picked the wrong time to raise ticket prices. Just my opinion...
Go Vols - Beat Bama.....

I was thinking the same thing. The economy is contributing to a lot of the problems with businesses (resturants, hotels, etc). The Vols' struggles this year plays some role, but gas prices in the month of September and early October have hindered local sales.

I agree with you also with the timing of raising ticket prices. I still find it puzzling how the University of Florida has their face value of a home game over $10.00 cheaper than ours. Ben Hill Griffin seats about 15,000 less than Neyland. The Gators have been much more successful in the past 17 years. Florida still makes their ticket prices more affordable. I don't believe UT can justify this.

rockytop47 writes:

TDTenn must the only guy in Tennessee with a trailer and a computer!!! I am amazed he can type though! Really outstanding considering his parents are related!!!! Seriously, all the trailer trash aside, the Vols looked good Saturday! I am impressed with Fulmer's ability to come back. Hopefully, Phil will be here for years to come! For all you trailer trash idiots who spout negativity and didn't take a class at UT shut up NOW!! ALL ALUMS RESPOND and put the rednecks DOWN!! I am in Seattle so I am trying to curb the trailer trash rebellion, but I need assistance!!! TDTN is probaly the biggest 2nd grade graduate in the world. But we must give the feeble minded ditch diggers their forum as well I guess!
Can't wait till we win out and PHIL stays!!!! GO VOLS and GO PHIL!!!!!!!

rockytop47 writes:

Funny, if the admin at Penn St had listened to the trash like TDTenn then they would be in bad shape now. I bet trailer trash boy TDTENN would have fired Patreno!! What an idiot!!!!! Thank god we have guys like Hamilton running the show and not some inbred tard like half the posters on this site making command decisions at UT!!! GO FULMER!!!!!

spvol writes:

Why isn't this on the business page?

nextyear writes:

People against fulmer are not trailer trash. We are terrorists! But seriously, we are significantly overdue for a new Head Coach. I like fulmer and want him to remain with the university, but NOT as head coach. BTW - JoePA got all new assistants ... maybe Penn St would be working on back to back championships right now if he would have stepped down 6 years ago like he should've ... oh yeah, he still beat UT in a bowl. I was there and I am at every home game ... spending money. I am not in Seattle throwing retared darts at others and calling names. Son, grow up. You'll never get ahead with your attitude.

Volalumnus writes:

rockytop47
Fulmer came back from what?

Seroiusly, he still has one of the worse teams in the league.

Came back from taking a nap? What?
Seriously?
What is he back from?

GoVol writes:

IMO - anyone that doesn't want Fulmer gone isn't a true Tennessee fan or doesn't know anything about football. Fulmer has to vacate the HC position before the football program will ever become a national contender again...very easy to see this.

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