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No college football would mean a $70 million hit to the Blacksburg economy
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No college football would mean a $70 million hit to the Blacksburg economy

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No football this fall could cost the Blacksburg area more than $70 million, according to the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. About $20 million of that comes directly from local businesses such as hotels, restaurants, shops, grocery stores and gasoline stations, which all see a boost on weekends when Virginia Tech plays home games at Lane Stadium.

“We lie awake at night about this,” said Sharon Scott, executive director for the chamber. “But we also understand that whatever decision is made, it’s going to be made with the greater good in mind.”

Scott said the chamber estimates “conservatively” the financial impact of a Virginia Tech football season on the region is between $69 million and $71 million, a figure that includes everything from commerce to salaries to taxes to the estimated $41 million in revenue generated by the university from football.

Those numbers are based on a 2015 economic-impact study. The current numbers figure to be higher. For example, Virginia Tech’s estimated football revenue in its 2018-19 NCAA filing had jumped to $51.8 million.

The New River Valley as a whole has an $8 billion economy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. A $70 million drop in economic activity from the loss of a season of Tech football would eliminate about nine-tenths of 1% of total economic activity in the area.

The Hokies were scheduled to play seven home games this season, opening the year at Lane against Liberty on Sept. 5 and hosting Big Ten power Penn State for the first time on Sept. 12. The Penn State game already has been called off, scrapped when the Big Ten announced, earlier this month, that it would play only conference games this season, an attempt to better control testing and safety protocols to deal with the spread of COVID-19.

Next week, the ACC — the conference in which Virginia Tech and rival Virginia play — is expected to announce a virus-inspired alteration to its schedule, potentially playing only conference games except one nonleague opponent for each school.

Tech athletics director Whit Babcock has said his department is considering models for the upcoming season — if games are played — that include allowing limited or no fans to attend the games.

The cost could be painful to area businesses.

Hotels in the New River Valley will lose nearly $6 million revenue if the spread of COVID-19 forces the cancellation or delay of the football season, Scott said. Restaurants stand to lose about $5 million in dining receipts. Gas sales figure to drop by about $2.9 million and retail shopping can expect a $2.6 million dip.

Scott said the chamber’s figures don’t include the region’s ABC store business, which also sees a significant spike during the fall.

Scott said the economic impact of Hokies football on the region has tripled in the past 15 years, to the point that local businesses rely on the fans’ direct spending on football weekends.

She didn’t wait to hear the end of the question when being asked if any other events in the region generate the level of financial impact that Tech football does.

“No,” she said, noting that most other events are similarly canceled or in jeopardy of being canceled due to the virus. “It’s tough to make up a $69 million hit in the fall. And that number doesn’t include graduation or parents’ weekend, those types of Virginia Tech-related events that families also visit for and spend money.”

Similarly, businesses in Charlottesville could be impacted if UVa doesn’t play its slate of home games at Scott Stadium this year. The city’s economy isn’t nearly as reliant on the university or its sports teams for commerce, with robust business from weddings, wineries and other tourist draws.

Still, football contributes to profitable fall seasons.

The statistical measures for hotel business — revenue per available room, occupancy and average daily rate — are all at their highest during in October, the heart of the college football season, said Courtney Cacatian, executive director for the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Not having football this fall — especially with the Cavaliers’ coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory — figures to be a loss felt by local businesses, especially with other events being canceled or lessened because of COVID.

“Losing football is going to be significant,” said Roy Van Doorn, Charlottesville chairman of the Virginia restaurant, lodging and travel organization. “Because of the lack of other things in Charlottesville, it’s going to really hurt.”

That’s bad news for a local economy that’s already hurting. Van Doorn estimated city hotels, normally filled to about 80% capacity this time of year, are running at about 38%. He said restaurant sales are down by 30% to 35%.

“Our lodging industry and our hotel and restaurant industry is just decimated right now,” said Van Doorn, who noted November’s Virginia Film Festival was recently canceled. “It’s just body blow after body blow. Right now, we’re just kind of looking at survival. Without football, it would just kind of continue the misery.”

Roanoke Times staff writer Jeff Sturgeon contributed information to this report.

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