Shrinking attendance at USC football games this season is changing the playing field for Columbia-area businesses.
Despite winning all three home games, official attendance at Williams-Brice Stadium is down more than 7 percent so far from last year's season average of 80,529.
The number of fans in the stands, however, likely is smaller than officially announced because USC counts tickets sold, not how many fans come through gates.
Many Columbia-area hotel, restaurant and souvenir store operators say their football-weekend sales have dropped around 10 percent from last year.
They blame the recession that has lasted long enough to make even some of the most die-hard Gamecock fans close their wallets.
"It's kind of surprising that their approach to spending has been much more conservative," said Steve Graves, general manager of the Embassy Suites Hotel near Greystone Boulevard.
As a result, fans in town for today's game against Kentucky are seeing some lower prices.
The Embassy Suites has lowered nightly rates around football weekends by as much as 10 percent.
The Jewelry Warehouse, stocked more Gamecock gear with lower prices, such as T-shirts in the $10-$15 range rather than $17-$20.
The Blue Marlin restaurant in the Vista is offering more meal specials priced in the high teens rather than above $20.
Columbia businesses relying on football-related sales started in a bit of hole this season.
About 11 percent of the school's 55,000 season tickets were not renewed this year - the first time since 2001 that USC did not sell out, officials said.
Some blame has been put on a new annual fee ranging from $50 to $395 per seat. There is no discussion about lowering ticket prices for next season, athletics department spokesman Steve Fink said.
The Embassy Suites Hotel used to get fully booked sometimes weeks in advance of a home game. Now rooms can be had up until about two days before gameday, Graves said. Rooms sold out on Tuesday for the Kentucky game.
The weekend of the big intrastate rivalry with Clemson would have more rooms open if not for the popular Miley Cyrus concert that same day at Colonial Life Arena, he said.
"Things won't change until we see a general uptick in the economy and until consumers feel more comfortable with their housing and employment situations," Graves said.
Blue Marlin owner Bill Dukes , whose business is off about 5 percent, said the down economy just gives fans another excuse to stay at home on gamedays.
"They can say the tickets, the hotel costs are too high and figure, 'We can watch it on TV,'" Dukes said.
The Jewelry Warehouse ramped up advertising this year in response to expected slow sales, said Scott Satterfield, president of the chain with four Columbia-area locations.
For the first time, some of the marketing was aimed at fans from outside the Midlands.
"We know more people might not be sitting in the stands, but are sitting at home and watching it on TV," Satterfield said.
The extra marketing has helped Jewelry Warehouse keep sales level with last season.
"We spent more to get the same amount of business," Satterfield said.
The big hope from businesses is that the Gamecocks continue their winning streak.
Attendance peaked in the past decade during the season where team won the most games. That was 2001 - the year of the last recession.
"As the team goes, so goes sales," Satterfield said.