Gainesville welcomes big-game atmosphere
By Anthony Clark
September 27, 2011
Gator fans are facing Saturday's football game against Alabama with a mix of excitement and anxiety as their team faces its biggest test of the year in a growing rivalry.
That can translate into more traffic and extra dollars for area hotels, restaurants and retailers that cater to game-day revelers.
“People come out and spend more money for the better games,” said Hoss Rice, manager of Gator's Dockside bar and grill, which triples its staff on game days. “They plan a bigger day.”
Alabama is becoming a bigger rival than Georgia or Tennessee “because it's not absolutely certain we're going to beat them,” said Christina Rodenwoldt, manager at Gators Plus apparel and souvenir shop near campus.
Florida's 4-0 record and the fact that Alabama has won the past two matchups against the Gators elevates Saturday's game, said Roger Cooper, a manager at Gator Mania in The Oaks Mall. And that means more business, he said.“Generally on a game of this magnitude we have to increase our staffing because it gets pretty hectic,” he said.
Demand has driven ticket resales through TicketCity.com — a national ticket retailer in business since 1990 — to the highest price of the week at $366 and the fourth highest for the rest of the season, behind only Texas at Texas A&M on Nov. 24, Oklahoma vs. Texas on Oct. 8 and LSU at Alabama on Nov. 5.
Gators Plus has to strike a delicate balance between stocking up for the Alabama game but not having too much stock left over since the next home game is not until the Nov. 5 homecoming game against Vanderbilt and the store has to make room for winter wear, Rodenwoldt said.
The other factor is whether Florida wins or not, she said.“If we win, it'll affect sales in a huge way,” she said. “If we lose, October might not be so great.”
The anticipation started before the season began, if reservations at the Hampton Inn downtown are any indication. This weekend was sold out in January, and any subsequent cancellations filled quickly for the 124 rooms, said Julie Douglas, director of sales.
The hotel also is able to charge its highest rate of the season so far — $399 for a standard room per night with a two-night minimum stay. “And people don't even flinch,” she said. Normal Saturday rates are $129, and game-day rates range from $189 to $399, Douglas said.
The Nov. 5 Vanderbilt game also is going for $399, she said. The Hampton does have 16 rooms left for the Nov. 19 game against Furman. “If the last two years tell us anything, we'll sell out for that, too, the closer we get,” Douglas said.
Rivals with a big fan base that travels in large numbers also are good for business, said Adam Culpepper, manager of the 101 Cantina restaurant and bar near campus. Florida's first two games against Florida Atlantic and Alabama Birmingham didn't draw as much interest, though the restaurant was still busy, he said.
The 8 p.m. game time tends to be better for some businesses and worse for others.
For the Gators Plus apparel store, the late start means a full day of selling since fans tend to go home or to bars after games, Rodenwoldt said. For restaurants, however, business slows when late games end. “You don't have that game at 3:30 where everybody goes out to eat afterward,” Culpepper said. He said 101 Cantina does a fair amount of business before games with its tent party in the parking lot.
For Gator's Dockside a couple of miles from campus, the best game time is 3:30 p.m., Rice said. “That way we get business before the game and after the game.” For an 8 p.m. game, people come in before they tailgate outside the stadium. “It means there's a lot more people here during the day watching football because everybody in town that is a fan of other teams are able to come out to see their teams play here,” he said. But after a late game, “families go home and people who are drinking stay downtown or in midtown instead of driving,” he said.
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