COVID-19

How COVID-19 disrupts the economics of college football in small-town Texas

Andy Uhler Sep 25, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Because of COVID, Texas A&M is allowing only 25% of the stadium to be filled for its upcoming home games, but that’s still about 30,000 people. Scott Halleran/Getty Images
COVID-19

How COVID-19 disrupts the economics of college football in small-town Texas

Andy Uhler Sep 25, 2020
Because of COVID, Texas A&M is allowing only 25% of the stadium to be filled for its upcoming home games, but that’s still about 30,000 people. Scott Halleran/Getty Images
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On a rainy Tuesday morning just before a modest lunch crowd arrived, Wade Beckman sat checking his phone on the patio of Shipwreck Grill, one of the restaurants he owns in College Station, Texas, a town of a little more than 100,000 that’s dominated by Texas A&M University. The school’s football team starts its season on Saturday night against Vanderbilt. Because of COVID, the school is allowing only 25% of the stadium to be filled, but that’s still about 30,000 people.

Beckman’s restaurants have been struggling since the coronavirus emerged in the spring. He operated at a loss over the summer and said he needs things to pick up this autumn. 

“Yeah, we’re scared,” Beckman said. “If we don’t have fall, by January, we’re not going to be in a position where we can continue to operate. So we’re putting a lot of bank on, these football game weekends are at least going to bring us up to paying our bills.”

He admitted he didn’t know what to expect on Saturday. Texas A&M isn’t allowing any tailgating for the game, which could mean good traffic for his restaurant.

“This weekend is so just crazy unknown,” he said. “We know it’s going to be, or, we’re pretty sure it’s going to be busier than a normal weekend. But we just don’t know to what level.”

In normal times, banking on being busier than normal at a bar or restaurant on a game day in College Station is a safe bet. According to a study commissioned by the Texas A&M athletics department, people who go to sporting events spend more than $120 million a year. It’s the only game in town.

“We don’t have any natural wonders and we don’t have South by Southwest, but what we have is Texas A&M and football,” said Dennis Jansen, director of Texas A&M’s Private Enterprise Research Center. “We draw tourists from other cities to come here to watch football.”

Those tourists normally fill hotels and spend money all around town. Some locals even leave town and rent out their homes to visitors. 

Ben Wiggins lives in College Station and would normally go to football games with his family, but not this time around, not when coronavirus is still spreading. 

“I still love the football team, big fan of the team, and of course, the university,” he said. “But at this time, the correct choice for me is to stay home.”

He doesn’t begrudge anyone for going to the game and trusts that the university has done all it can to make sure people are social distancing and understand the risks. 

“There will be thousands of people there and I don’t think less of any of those people,” he said. “But it’s just a personal choice for me. I might attend games later in the season.”

But, for now, he’s lying low. His daughter is celebrating her first birthday on Saturday, so they’re going to have a little family-only party for her, instead.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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