KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– The University of Tennessee Volunteers will play football at home Saturday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gamedays in Knoxville usually meant a packed Neyland Stadium, booked hotels and bars and restaurants wall-to-wall with people.
“You can count on being at capacity, you know, almost every game every year,” Ken Knight, general manager of the Crowne Plaza, said.
With Neyland at only 25% capacity, thousands of fewer fans will be traveling into town.
Matt Harris, associate professor of economics at UT, said those businesses that are usually packed on gamedays might be the most impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions.
“There’s going to be some loss. Some diminished economic benefits from the game, just because of the reduced seating and from people not coming in to Knox County from other areas,” Harris said.
Harris said he expects those losses to grow the closer you get to the stadium, because fewer people will be participating in traditional game day activities, such as pregaming at a nearby bar.
The Crowne Plaza is just about a mile and a half away from Neyland Stadium. Knight said his hotel has already been impacted because it’s not fully booked. However, that has unfortunately been the new normal since COVID-19.
“I don’t know if it will really have much more of an impact than any other day has had so far since the middle of March. It’s just kind of where we’re at in this point in time. And until things change with the virus, this is the way it’s going to be,” Knight said.
Knight said hotel sales align almost directly with flights.
If people aren’t flying, then they won’t be staying in a hotel. While hotels, restaurants and bars might be the obvious types of businesses impacted by fewer fans in the stadium this weekend, Harris said they won’t be the only businesses feeling the economic hurt.
“There also is traffic at the Vol shop, and there’s concession sales and parking revenues that the university can utilize,” Harris said.
Harris said the COVID-19 restrictions won’t create a total loss of revenue.
Grocery stores might see an uptick of alcohol and food sales for at-home tailgating, and restaurants around Knox County in general might have more customers wanting to watch the game in a Vol fan atmosphere.
“If you drive around Knoxville, it’s kind of hard to get a table at most places anytime the Vols are playing,” Harris said.
Not all hotels might struggle to reach full occupancy either. Rick Dover, the general manager of the Hyatt Place in downtown, said his hotel was almost completely booked, and he expects the roof top bar to have a good turn out come game day.
Knight isn’t too optimistic about the turnout for the rest of football season, but he hopes the lull stops in time for their busiest season, which he said is spring time.
He said no matter what happens with guest turnout, his hotel will be ready.