Game boosts local economy

Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 11:36 p.m.


Super Bowl boon AT A GLANCE

  • Tourism officials anticipate up to 120,000 people will flock to the Jacksonville area for the Super Bowl, pumping more than $360 million into the region's coffers.

  • Put your game face on Gainesville. The Super Bowl is coming to a town near you.
    Gainesville businesses are revving up for a surge in run-off Super Bowl-related business.
    Jacksonville, the host of Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6, has a shortage of rooms for visitors coming to town for the big game. As a result, Gainesville-area hotels, charter bus and limousine companies, restaurants, bars and other businesses expect to profit from people forced to look outside of Jacksonville for accommodations.
    "If a fan calls and says, 'I can't get tickets, but I want to be in the area for the party,' we want them to come to Gainesville," said Nancy Fischer, director of sales for the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau. "Our goal is to have them stay here - to put heads in beds."
    Tourism officials anticipate up to 120,000 people will flock to the Jacksonville area for the Super Bowl, pumping more than $360 million into the region's coffers. A large number of those people will be coming with no intention of attending the game itself.
    "It's a good-time weekend. The game just happens to be going on," said Jim Lide, director of sales and marketing for the Hilton at the University of Florida Conference Center.
    Jacksonville is the smallest city to host a Super Bowl. It is trying to compensate for its shortage of more than 20,000 rooms by booking cabins in cruise ships and advertising rooms from Savannah, Ga., to Orlando on its Super Bowl Web site.
    Gainesville area hotels are booking the weekend so fast that the Alachua County Visitors Bureau hasn't decided if it will follow Baton Rouge, La.'s example and advertise in the cities with teams going to the game, Fischer said.
    When the Super Bowl came to New Orleans in 2002, the city - located 90 miles northwest of New Orleans - booked more than 4,000 guest rooms after advertising. Gainesville is 70 miles southwest of Jacksonville, and approximately 50 to 60 percent of its 4,300 guest rooms have already been booked for Super Bowl weekend, Fischer said.
    "Honestly, we are watching to see how many rooms we have," Fischer said. "You don't want to advertise if you don't have the rooms."
    Competing events Other Super Bowl weekend events in the Gainesville area such as the Sun Trust Gator Invitational golf tournament and the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire will make it even harder for last minute out-of-towners to find a room, Fischer said. The Hoggetowne Faire is listed on the National Football League's Web site and is expected to draw 50,000 visitors over two weekends, said Linda Piper, events coordinator for the city of Gainesville.
    "The goal (behind advertising on NFL's Web site) was to provide something extra for people. To keep the money in Alachua County," Piper said.
    Although February is one of the busiest months in Gainesville due to a number of parents' weekends, hotel reservations are already higher than normal, said Roland Loog, director of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau.
    "Most of the big, up-scale properties are close to being full," he said.
    The mad scramble for hotel rooms and transportation to the game is expected to peak shortly after the two teams going to the Super Bowl are decided on Sunday, tourism officials said.
    "(By then) Gainesville is not going to have a lot of availability," Lide said.
    Related industries Last week, only a handful of the Hilton's 248 rooms were still open. A network television group and the NFL booked large blocks of rooms months ago, Lide said. Half of the 152 rooms at Holiday Inn West in Gainesville were booked, and the Cabot Lodge is packed.
    While most visitors will spend the majority of their time in Jacksonville, Gainesville-area restaurants are expected to be the No. 2 beneficiary of the Super Bowl overflow, said Jack Hughes, the executive director of the Gainesville Sports Organizing Committee.
    "Anybody who comes here and stays in a hotel will go to a restaurant at least once," he said.
    Locals are also expected to "get into the spirit" and flood area bars and restaurants, Fischer said.
    The Gainesville Ale House, for example, expects a busier than normal Super Bowl day. It is offering discounts to guests at local hotels and has already sold more tickets to its Super Bowl party than it did this time last year, said Paul Anthony, kitchen manager at the Ale House.
    While charter bus and limousine companies are getting more inquiries than reservations, they also expect to see a spike in business after the Super Bowl teams are decided.
    "Right now I can't say, 'Wow the Super Bowl is going to generate X dollars,'" said Don Lewis, owner of the Ocala-based Premier Carriage Co.
    "People are waiting to the last minute. Waiting to see who's going to play," he added.
    Increased visibility Andy Bailey, owner of Breakaway Vacations, a Gainesville-based chartered bus, hotel and air package company, is working with travel agencies across the country to book three-day Super Bowl packages starting at $600.
    In the packages, fans fly nonstop to Gainesville, stay in area hotels and take one of up to 60 55-person motor coaches to and from Jacksonville every half an hour from early morning to late at night throughout the weekend, he said. Tickets to the game are not included.
    "During Super Bowl, a lot of people spend a lot of money," he said. "It definitely should be a good boost to the economy."
    While local tourism officials said it's hard to put a dollar amount on the potential economic impact, they expect it will be on par with a University of Florida home football game. They also point to the long-term economic impact on the region.
    Over 800 million people in 220 countries including 144 million Americans watch the Super Bowl, said Heather Surface, director of communications for the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee.
    "When you look at the economic impact, you have to take into account the visibility the Super Bowl brings to a region," she said.
    Gainesville has a number of advantages over other North Florida towns vying for a slice of the $360 million Super Bowl pie. It has easy interstate access and an airport eager to support any overflow business.
    "We are available, and we will accommodate anyone," Elaine Funk, public relations person for the Gainesville Regional Airport, said.
    But at this point, Gainesville's commercial airport does not have any additional flights scheduled in connection with the Super Bowl.
    The commercial airlines are watching their Super Bowl weekend load factors - a record of how many people book flights on any given day - and Gainesville will bring in additional flights as necessary, Funk said.
    The University Air Center, a private airport located at Gainesville Regional, also hasn't received game-day reservations for private jets - yet. After the teams are announced, Jay Curtis, the general manager, expects a 500 percent increase in flights.
    "People will come," he said.

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