The allure of a two-championship town
Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 10:21 p.m.
T-shirts and baseball cap sales were only the beginning.
Economists and others this week said they expect the Gator football team's national championship win to impact everything from tourism to business recruitment in Alachua County, with the trickle-down effects lasting years after the championship trophy is awarded. Though other championship-winning cities warned that Gainesville should expect the victory glow to fade within several months, Brent Christensen, director of the Council for Economic Outreach, said he hopes to use the Gators' dual championships in football and basketball as tools to lure businesses and employees to the area.
"This puts us on the map in one more way, and I hope to capitalize on that for many years to come," Christensen said. "Folks want to be associated with the winner, and the Gators in Gainesville are winners. I imagine this will affect not just business recruitment, but hospitals trying to recruit nurses and artistic organizations trying to attract artists for events like paint-outs. This is a heck of a boon for our community in ways beyond the obvious ones."
Christensen and others said the free nationwide marketing Gainesville received during the national championship game was invaluable and could positively impact tourism throughout the region. Roland Loog, director of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau, said he was excited to see images of Gainesville and of Albert and Alberta, which the bureau uses to promote Alachua County, on national television as he watched the Gators win.
"We love the name recognition that comes with all of this," Loog said. "Every time the word 'Gainesville' comes up, it makes it that much much easier to promote." Loog said that promotion and hype helped net new visitors after the Gators' basketball national championship last year.
"We get calls now from people who are coming into town to see the basketball game, which we never did before," Loog said. "We actually have people who come into the office asking us for things to see and do while they're here, and that's very exciting."
UF economist Dave Denslow said some of those visitors may decide to stay a while. Denslow said Gainesville could see an increase in purchases of second homes for football weekends, along with an increase in retirees moving to Gainesville above other university cities.
"None of these things will lead to a major economic boom — this will be at the margins," Denslow said. "But there will be a possible economic impact nonetheless. And the short-run euphoria is certainly enjoyable."
UF is expected to net millions from sales of UF T-shirts and other merchandise. Doug Brown, director of the Bull Gator program, said he had his eyes on longer-lasting benefits.
Brown said future projects, such as a planned expansion of the weight room and football coaching offices, will be easier to fund in the wake of the championship win. He said after the Gators won their previous football national championship in January 1997, donors at the Bull Gator level — at the time, people who donated more than $10,000 — increased 100 percent in the year following the win.
"In a big-picture sense, there's no doubt that this helps fundraising," Brown said. "The next month or two, probably not. But for us, it's not the short-term, immediate return. We expect that people will be more willing to consider proposals we put in front of them in the future."
Carter Boydstun, senior associate vice president for development at the University of Florida Foundation, said a study of UF and other championship-winning universities after the Gators' 1996 championship showed that national championship victories don't cause academic fundraising to skyrocket.
"Obviously, the exposure is wonderful," Boydstun said. "It's hard to measure certain motivations for people to give, and you can never lose with good news."
Amanda Sablatura, a spokeswoman for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said Austin didn't see that exposure translate into business recruitment following the University of Texas' national championship win last year. "It's great in that people from other states have heard of us," Sablatura said. "It definitely increased the recognition of Austin. But it certainly hasn't sealed any deals. More than anything, it's a good icebreaker for chit-chat."
The impact on tourism was more pronounced. Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Cynthia Maddox said the number of people visiting the city stayed up for months after the football season ended.
"We had a good eight months of hype about Austin after the national championship game," Maddox said. "We have seen an increase in the number of visitors. It also gives a certain cachet to Austin in the national media. Certainly, restaurants and clubs in Austin benefited from it."
Christensen said successful athletic programs have long been a source of economic development for cities, and said the long-term impacts of championship wins often depend on the cities themselves.
"Between the Jaguars and the Superbowl, Jacksonville has used its NFL presence to show the country and world what a fantastic community it is," Christensen said. "It is incumbent upon us to take advantage of this in the same way."
Amy Reinink can be reached at 352-374-5088 or email@example.com.
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