Ready for Kickoff: KSU football boon for city’s businesses

Roger Tutterow

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 5, 2015) — A significant chunk of Kennesaw State University’s 33,000 students and its 76,000 in-state alumni crammed into bars, restaurants and motels from Marietta to “far up I-75” in early September when KSU’s football team held its first-ever home game against Edward Waters College of Jacksonville, Florida.

It was the culmination of a 20-year dream for Georgia’s third-largest university, and the business community was “ecstatic,” said Tracy Rathbone, executive director of the Town Center Area Community Improvement District.

“There is an electric energy in the area right now with retailers and restaurants looking to benefit,” she said a few days before the game. “The impact goes far beyond the stadium walls and far up I-75.”

KSU Athletic Director Vaughn Williams said about 10,000 people were expected to jam their way into and around the 8,800-capacity Fifth Third Bank Stadium, which meant most bars and restaurants within 20 miles of the campus stood to benefit, showing the game on TVs of all sizes.

KSU won its first game, smashing East Tennessee State 56-16.

Williams said “there are restaurants and businesses all around the area, Barrett Parkway, Chastain, and we’ve been encouraging them to wear black and gold, our colors. We had watch parties at a lot of locations last week for the first game. The games are streamed or on ESPN 3. I think the financial impact will be big.”

He said KSU “has a billion dollar impact on northwest Georgia” and football fans will boost that total.

Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews said “the advent of NCAA football in our hometown is exciting on many levels. Because KSU football will bring lots of alumni and families back into the area, it will most certainly have a positive impact on local retail businesses and restaurants.”

For KSU, he said, “it’s a chance to tap into an alumni network that has something new to get them back to campus and see the remarkable growth and development that has happened in the past 10 years.

“This area has a variety of fine attractions, including dining, shopping and sports, and having game day crowds gives us a chance to show them off,” he added.

Williams said the game was a sellout, but most of the team’s other five home games have some tickets left.

KSU President Dan Papp wasn’t dreaming of football when he took office in 2006, but said his predecessors had started commissioning studies on bringing the sport to the university as early as 20 years ago.

And now he’s enthused.

“Athletics in general is an immense economic engine, and we expect that with the addition of the KSU football program, KSU’s athletics programs overall will have even more of an impact on the economies of Cobb and the surrounding counties,” Papp said.

In the South, he said, “having a football team is a measure of a university that has made it. Kennesaw State is clearly one of those universities.

“As a university with a football team and now with the consolidation with Southern Poly (Southern Polytechnic State University) … Kennesaw State will be much more visible,” Papp said. “This will help in a lot of ways, from recruitment and retention to fundraising, and ultimately this will help the greater Atlanta community.”

Rathbone said businesses all around Cobb are excited about new money fans will spend in the area, “especially as the momentum continues to build. Whether you’re an alum or not, people are excited about the prospect of college football.”

As an example of that, Al Barba, KSU’s director of athletics communications, said the school’s sports website got more than 6,000 page views prior to the game, 10 times the 600 page views the site averages. Video highlights on YouTube had more than 3,000 views, he said.

“We’ll live broadcast into lots of bars and restaurants,” he said. “Our stadium holds only so many people, so our fans will be watching our game alongside fans watching Georgia and Georgia Tech.”

Cobb Chairman Tim Lee said launching a football program at KSU “is a phenomenal event that will put a national spotlight on our community and highlight all of the important work and achievements of Cobb’s hometown university.”

Roger Tutterow, an economics professor and director of the Econometric Center at KSU, said if Athens is an example, “we expect people to spend money in the community” for home games.

“There are certainly going to be economic impacts,” Tutterow said. “With so many students, this institution has really matured. If one goes back 25 years, we drew students already living in close proximity. It was a commuter school only. Now we pull students from every state. The economic impact of football will become larger as the footprint of the students expands. You want to bring in dollars from outside the area.”

And just wait, he said, until KSU takes on teams like Georgia State (2018) and Georgia Tech (in 2021).

“Sports are a big part of overall tourism in Cobb today, and we expect it to increase exponentially over the next few years,” said Lindsey Burruss, marketing director of Cobb Travel & Tourism. “Using the current number of 8,318 fans based on an anticipated sold-out crowd … and applying that number to Destination Marketing Association International’s Impact Calculator, (we) estimate that Kennesaw’s new football program will have an economic impact of $519,546 per game and more than $3 million for the football season.”

Restaurant and bar managers in the area could not wait and had high expectations.

“Last week when our game was out of town, we were standing room only,” said Mike Norton, general manager of World of Beer, an eatery and bar near the stadium. “We had the game on TV. We expect a huge turnout Saturday. We had over 300 alumni from the area and a whole lot of students.”

Greg Carter, who runs California Dreaming on Chastain Road, was excited about the first game.

“We’re hoping folks will come in before or after the game, and we’re also hoping to provide food for tailgating. We have KSU helmets and pennants. It’ll be fun,” Carter said.

“The restaurants and bars will be buzzing,” said KSU’s Williams. “It’s going to be exciting and a lot of fun.”

KSU went on to beat Edward Waters College, 58-7, winning their first game at home in Kennesaw.

-Marietta Daily Journal