- November 5, 2021
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College football fans spent $26.2 million here on hotel rooms, restaurant meals and other expenses over Labor Day weekend, according to figures compiled by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.
With two more games to be played next month — the ACC Football Championship on Dec. 4 and the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30 — the city is likely to surpass spending for neutral-site college football games in 2019, the most recent year of full-capacity contests.
The Charlotte Sports Foundation is the operator and lead organizer of the games. The ACC Football Championship is an exception because it is owned and operated by the conference, and the sports foundation is the local organizer.
All the games have been or will be played at Bank of America Stadium, the 75,000-seat stadium owned by the NFL Carolina Panthers. The opening weekend games are known as the Duke’s Mayo Classic.
This year marked the first time the foundation staged two opening weekend games: Appalachian State vs. East Carolina on Sept. 2 and Clemson vs. Georgia on Sept. 4. The latter featured two top-five teams in a prime-time, nationally televised matchup.
Clemson and Georgia will each receive $4 million or 45% of revenue, whichever is greater, according to terms of the contract.
“There’s risk involved when you’re bringing in high-profile events and our board of directors was willing to take that risk,” sports foundation Executive Director Danny Morrison told CBJ this week. “We have a great board. And then you add to that the support we got from the city, the county, the CRVA, Bank of America Stadium, and the (Carolina) Panthers. And our staff did a wonderful job of executing.”
Morrison said the spending by visitors “just highlighted our mission” of staging large sporting events to generate business for hotels, restaurants and others in the local hospitality industry. That spending is especially valuable now as tourism-related businesses have suffered from Covid-19-related closings, delays, postponements and capacity limits during the past 19 months.
As previously reported by CBJ, the Clemson-Georgia game spurred record single-night room sales in Mecklenburg County, according to figures compiled by industry tracker STR. Nearly 29,000 rooms were sold on Sept. 4, the night the game was played. Rooms sold for an average of $315 in uptown, topped only by the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.
The three-day weekend also generated the fourth-highest revenue for area hotels for any event with a combined $10.7 million in sales.
Clemson-Georgia was a sellout with attendance of 74,187. App State-East Carolina drew 36,752 fans and the traveling ESPN College GameDay pregame show, aired live from Romare Bearden Park, brought 6,000 people uptown.
Between the GameDay broadcast and the two games, Charlotte enjoyed a healthy dose of TV time. The 3-hour ESPN pregame show on Saturday morning — with the uptown skyline as a backdrop — was watched by an average of 1.84 million people.
Clemson-Georgia, shown on ABC that night, was the second most-watched kickoff game in the past 20 years, attracting an average of 8.9 million viewers. ESPNU’s App State-East Carolina broadcast had 245,000 viewers.
In 2019, the sports foundation’s college games consisted of North Carolina vs. South Carolina over Labor Day weekend, the ACC Football Championship, and the bowl game. Combined direct visitor spending was $41.2 million, according to the visitors authority.
The ACC championship and bowl game accounted for $32.5 million of that amount. Combined, the three games in 2019 generated 73,000 room nights. This year, the Labor Day doubleheader accounted for 65,000 rooms sold.
In a prepared statement, visitors authority CEO Tom Murray said, “Strategic events like the Duke’s Mayo Classic elevate the Charlotte region in so many ways. They draw thousands of visitors, boost activity at hotels, restaurants and other local businesses, and shine a spotlight on the Queen City so that more people see what an exciting place Charlotte is to experience. As we’ve been implementing pandemic recovery marketing efforts, we’re grateful for the partnerships that made the 2021 Duke’s Mayo Classic so memorable and impactful to the hospitality industry.”
Independent economists frequently characterize tourism impact estimates and studies as inflated. Visitors authority CEO Murray has consistently countered that assessment by saying the tourism agency’s impact studies are conservative in their calculations.
The overall impact from the Labor Day games was $48.8 million, according to the visitors authority. The football weekend added $1.47 million to Mecklenburg sales and hospitality tax collections.
BofA Stadium and the sports foundation will host opening weekend games featuring historically black colleges and universities N.C. Central University and N.C. A&T State University in 2022 and 2027, North Carolina vs. South Carolina in 2023, and Tennessee facing West Virginia in 2028.
Morrison said talks are under way to add Labor Day weekend games in 2024, 2025, and 2026.