Despite a slight dip in attendance over the past few years, college football remains one of most highly attended and watched sporting events in the world. Over 47 million fans attended an NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision game in 2017, for an average of over 42,000 per game, about 50% higher than the average of Major League Baseball teams.
Dr. Joel B Akin, a veterinarian and avid college football fan based in Arlington, Texas, home of the University of Texas Arlington Mavericks, says there is noticeably increased city-wide activity during college football gamedays, which often includes thousands of people descending on the city from neighboring counties.
College Football Trumps Pro Sports in Local Impact
The economic impact of professional sports teams is often debated, particularlygiven that many of those teams reside in major metropolises that don’t see their economic needle moved overly much by a team’s presence.
Dr. Akin notes that this is primarily because most of those games are attended by the city’s own residents, who would simply be spending the majority of their money within the city in other ways if the local sports team didn’t exist.
College football teams on the other hand often draw thousands of visitors to the city. In fact, some college football cities like Ann Arbor, Michigan and Iowa City, Iowa routinely draw crowds that are comparable to those cities’ entire populations, generating massive gameday revenue for the universities themselves and the city as a whole.
Of the 70,000 fans that attend the average Iowa Hawkeyes game, over 50,000 of them come from outside Iowa City, with each home game generating an average of $14 million in economic impact.
Then there are the hugely popular bowl games, which pit some of the best teams and fiercest rivals against each other. The two Chick-fil-A bowl games which are hosted annually in Atlanta have generated over $80 million in economic impact per year since 2014 and over $5.7 million in direct tax revenue in 2018 alone.
Much of the debate about the value of professional sports teams stems from the fact that their costly stadiums are usually taxpayer funded. This is another area where college football teams vastly outperform their professional counterparts, as their home fields are often paid for by the schools themselves.
This means the economic impact on the city is entirely gravy as opposed to essentially working to pay off the city for its investment, which can take decades, by which point a new, modern stadium needs to be built on the taxpayers’ dime again.
Furthermore, Joel B Akin adds that there is virtually no threat of a college team leaving the local area, whereas pro teams routinely pack their bags and head for another city, often ones that will give in to their demands for a new publicly subsidized stadium.
In addition to the local economic impact, some of the top college football programs pull in over $100 million in revenue annually, which is then funneled into other departments and athletic programs, many of which lose money. This allows them to continue operating and to benefit all of the school’s student body and local residents in various ways.