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Oregon's College Towns Prepare For The Return Of Football


The Pac-12 Conference will kick off its delayed season three weeks from now, but there won't be any fans in the stadiums. What does that mean for the towns where football is not just central to their identities but their economies, too? NPR's H.J. Mai went to two such places in Oregon.

H J MAI, BYLINE: For the towns of Eugene and Corvallis, college football is a big deal. The Cooler Restaurant and Bar in Eugene has been around for 50 years and is just a few blocks from Autzen Stadium, where the Oregon Ducks play. On game days, The Cooler's usually packed with hundreds of fans dressed up in the team's colors of green and yellow - but not this year.

TINA MCGILL: It'll be a significant impact to our business.

MAI: General manager Tina McGill says Duck football games are usually the highest-grossing days of the year for The Cooler.

MCGILL: It's not going to be the same revenue generator as it would be, you know, with 60,000 people walking basically right by our front door.

MAI: Current COVID restrictions limit the restaurant's capacity to less than 100 people. McGill says she and her staff are working to make sure every customer can celebrate the return of college football safely.

MCGILL: Our plan is to just make sure that everybody keeps the social distance that we're supposed to - 6 feet from every single table - stays within their group that they arrived with and has a great view of our huge big screen. And being able to adapt, I think, is the name of the game right now.

MAI: But the lack of fans in the stands means many businesses stand to lose out.

Brittany Quick-Warner is the president of the Eugene Chamber of Commerce. She says that on a typical football weekend, each visitor spends about $166 a day.

BRITTANY QUICK-WARNER: It's a huge economic impact to the tune of millions of dollars.

MAI: Over the past century, the University of Oregon bookstore, also known as The Duck Store, has become a one-stop shop for everything Ducks, from jerseys to bedsheets to mugs. For bookstore CEO Arlyn Schaufler, football means top dollar.

ARLYN SCHAUFLER: The biggest revenue driver for us is Pac-12 football. That represents about 60% of our total sales for the entire organization.

MAI: Without the usual game day traffic, Schaufler is having to adjust his projections for Oregon's home opener against Stanford on November 7.

SCHAUFLER: We expect to probably do fifty to $75,000 in sales each home game, which is way down from what it normally is when we have fans.

MAI: It's a similar story for Corvallis, home of Oregon State University. Without large crowds, businesses don't expect to gain much.

Block 15 Brewing co-founder Kristen Arzner is actually relieved that the Pac-12 decided to hold off admitting fans until at least January.

KRISTEN ARZNER: I think it's good to be cautious because, honestly, the most detrimental impact to my business would be if cases rose in our area and we had to move backwards into, you know, a previous phase.

SIMON DATE: It's a weird feeling...

MAI: Simon Date heads the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce.

DATE: ...When you know you're going to be hurting but you know it's the right decision. It's a weird dichotomy to be in.

MAI: The return of Pac-12 football might not be the economic boost college towns hoped for. But with coronaviruses cases once again rising in Oregon, football with no fans in the stands is the safer option.

H.J. Mai, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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