Lack of football fans to hurt local economy

A normal Saturday in Lane Stadium has meant 50,000-plus individuals in the stands. This year’s numbers will be much lower thanks to COVID-19.

Virginia Tech football is a major factor into the New River Valley’s economy, bringing millions and millions of dollars annually. The latest plan to limit the number of fans in the stands because of the COVID-19 pandemic to fewer than 50 percent of capacity and in most projected plans to as little as 25 percent capacity will drastically affect local businesses.

Sports is big business for those that own hotels and restaurants in Blacksburg and Christiansburg as home games have become the life-blood for many of them.

According to an economic report from 2015, those numbers include an estimated $47 million annually in spending. Approximately $9.9 million was directly connected to overnight accommodations.

Lisa Bleakley, the executive director of the Montgomery Regional Tourism office, remains optimistic.

“If football does happen without spectators/attendees, there will still be some positive economic impact as there is spending generated by VT athletics and the visiting team. With a 30-36% spectator capacity, you’re talking approximately a 1/3 of the normal impact from spending on lodging, dining, retail, etc.,” she said.

Comparing the economic impact for VT football to the economic impact of tourism to Montgomery County (comparing 2015 figures), according to Bleakley, an impact to the local economy will be felt if spectator capacity is severely reduced or eliminated.

“Virginia Tech football is an important economic driver for Montgomery County and the New River Valley,” she said. “Our economy, as with others, has to consider adaptations in today’s changing environment. It is necessary to protect the health of the fans, players and public at large while preserving the local economy to the extent possible.”

Bill Roth is a former Virginia Tech sports broadcaster and a professor in the university’s media studies program. He believes no one really knows how the local economy will be affected and that projections change by the hours.

“If we play this fall, it will look much different obviously since some leagues have already postponed all sports including football to the spring,” Roth said. “The odds of starting seem low. The odds of finishing a complete season seem even lower.”

Roth believes the impact for some businesses will be catastrophic.  “Missing graduation, then orientation, and potentially football will be devastating to some of my friends in the business community.”

The 2015 study showed Tech football affected everything from local churches that collected money for game-day parking to area bed-and-breakfasts located not only in Montgomery County, but also in Pulaski, Radford and Roanoke.

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