The University of South Carolina takes its highest ranking ever at the start of a season onto the football field Thursday night in Columbia against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.
And with that No. 6 ranking, Gamecock football is expected to deliver its most significant impact ever on the local economy, experts say. That includes season ticket sales for a seven-game home stand, more fans eating out at restaurants and sales of new hats and T-shirts.
“The impact will be the historical high for any athletic event in the state of South Carolina,” said Tom Regan, USC Sport and Entertainment Management graduate director. Regan prepared a football economic impact study for the university’s athletic director two decades ago and has updated it twice since then.
USC football’s total economic impact on the Midlands is $50 million, according to Regan’s figures, or $6.26 million per game, encompassing gasoline sales at the corner station, cold beers poured in Five Points, steaks served in the Vista and exhausted fans seeking a good night’s sleep at local hotels.
This year, the Gamecocks’ laudable national ranking, along with a proven roster of players under head coach Steve Spurrier and his staff, have created a buzz around Williams-Brice Stadium that could put USC – and the Columbia area – in contention for another blockbuster season.
Spurrier’s Gamecocks are coming off their second consecutive 11-win season, and both the state and national economies are rebounding from the worst recession in a lifetime.
“You’re going to see the opportunity for the (economic) impact to be greater on the Columbia metropolitan area than it’s ever been,” said Regan.
Known nationally for a strong following – win or lose – the Gamecocks typically put 660,000 fans in the stands over the course of an eight-game home schedule, Regan’s statistics show. This year, the team will play only seven home games.
Local fans spend about $67.40 each per game, while out-of-town fans spend about $162 per game. Eating, drinking, tailgating, lodging, tickets, retail purchases, travel, gas and other associated costs are included in those totals.
Because 2013 is expected to be such a strong year in USC sports, of which football is the unmistakable golden goose, USC has gotten a grant to do a new athletics economic impact study this year on the university’s big three sports: football, basketball and baseball, Regan said. The study is expected to be out in June 2014, he said.
Meanwhile, those figures for fan spending likely will rise this year with the Heisman Trophy buzz around star USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Fans are still taking about his delivery of “the hit” to Michigan running back Vincent Smith in last season’s Outback Bowl.
Clowney, No.7, a junior, is one of the Gamecocks’ most popular players, along with starting quarterback Connor Shaw, No. 14, and star backup quarterback Dylan Thompson, No.17.
“A starting quarterback that beats Clemson is always gonna be in Gamecock lore,” Regan asserted.
Store sales of Gamecock jerseys are up markedly this year at the Gamecock Stop, a gear, clothing and gift store along Rosewood Drive, according to owner Justin Evans.
“We have an online footprint where you pick your jersey, tell us what number you want and we’ll ship it to you,” Evans said. “We have seen an uptick in our jersey sales. People are more excited. We have seen almost a 40 percent increase in the combination of foot traffic and sales over where we were this time last year.”
Gamecock gameday apparel is big again this year, and fans began purchasing it briskly in early August, according to Perry Lancaster, manager of Britton’s clothing store along Devine Street. The store started boosting its stock of Gamecock gear and bringing in new exclusive products at the end of last season.
“Gameday apparel is phenomenal,” Lancaster said. “Interest in the Gamecocks is phenomenal.” One of the items most popular this year with fans is a bowtie from the Brackish Bow Tie collection – made out of actual rooster feathers, Lancaster said.
Fans also are purchasing Gamecock argyle socks, custom-made T-shirts and coaches’ shirts, he said.
Hotels in the city are among the biggest benefactors of a good USC football season, commonly selling out for games against top Southeastern Conference teams such as Florida and Alabama.
“It’s a very positive thing for us this time of year,” said Ian Yates, assistant manager of the Inn at Claussen’s in Five Points. “Anything USC-related, not just the football season, but whether it’s graduation, or returning alumni, any time it’s anything related to USC, it is good for us.
“But in regards to football, we really do see a huge turn-up in business, something we look forward to every year,” Yates said.
Operating in a historic building that served as bakery from 1928 until 1965, the inn attracts both Gamecock fans and out-of-towners supporting opposing teams.
“And depending on how big the game is, we can be sold out for that game as soon as the game is announced,” he said. Many of the visitors are USC alumni who have moved to other places.
Former USC students living outside of Columbia “are very aware of the Gamecocks’” solid national ranking, Regan said.
Regan, who has been at the university more than 20 years, said he has heard from former students from Boston to London to California who wonder what the football year will hold and already have made plans to return this year to attend some games.
“These alumni are going to want to come back to Columbia and this could be a very special year,” Regan said.