Saturday, October 1, 2011

Homecoming 2011: Following the Money

Posted By on Sat, Oct 1, 2011 at 12:45 PM

To students, alumni and dedicated fans, UM’s homecoming means beer, cheerleaders, parties (before and after the game), beer, a pep rally, something called “community connectedness” and, well, football. But to the UM Athletic Department, the Alumni Association, the university and more than a few businesses the weekend’s all about the money. Money spent and money made.

Big UM fun at homecoming. Big UM dollars behind it.

Athletic Director Jim O’Day considers all homecoming activities — and there are 18 official ones this weekend — investments. The exposure is key.

“Anytime we can bring people in and show them what a great community this is will translate economically,” he says.

But is it all worth it?

The Alumni Association spends an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 on homecoming events, including the Distinguished Alumni Award and Reception, 40-year class reunion, parade and more. The UM Athletic Department, co-sponsors of the Friday-night pep rally, spends an estimated $500 on top of the normal game-day costs. And don’t forget about the ticket give-a-ways, marketing tools and staff costs for both departments.

GrizTix Box Office Manager Celine Fisher says that, since the 1996 championship, homecoming has grown in demand and that for the last five-plus years, the game’s sold out. That’s more than 25,000 tickets per game, including extra bleacher seats. “We are certainly the envy of many other universities in our conference,” Fisher says. Plus, there are an additional 400 attendees at the massive free tailgate party sponsored by the Alumni Association in the Adams Center.

Missoula Downtown Association Director Linda McCarthy estimates that of the 25,000 fans who participate in game day, 60 percent of those are from out of town. That’s good business for the hotels and restaurants.
Then there’s the parade. There are 4,000 to 6,000 thousand fans lining downtown streets for that tradition, but do they stick around and shop and eat?

O’Day and McCarthy say yes, but that it's not just a happy spin. O’Day cites one example: Body shop owners tell him they see an uptick homecoming weekend, the result of more people, more cars and more fender benders.

Over at the Southgate Mall, Marketing Director Trisha Mineo notices a bigger crowd, especially on Friday afternoons, when those who are geared out in Griz Wear remedy the situation. More stores stock more shelves to help out. In addition, the mall pays for a kickoff party on the Sunday prior to the game and gives away a tailgate package to one of 3,000 to 5,000 hopefuls. The package includes donated items from mall businesses, as well as donated tickets from the athletic department. The tradeoff? More foot traffic the rest of the week.

O’Day estimates an average of $5 million to $7 million is spent every game-day weekend in the community, and homecoming is on the higher end of that range.

It certainly reaches deep to fill up Athletic Department coffers. Tickets average $32 a piece. That’s approximately $816,000 a game.¬¬ Not bad at all.

The Alumni Association can afford to fund this university and community event because “university alums are a loyal group of people,” says Susan Cuff, Associate Director of the association. Her group has 6,000 members who pay an average of $50 per year for the privilege.

With a budget of more than $300,000, homecoming is funded primarily from those yearly dues, plus sponsorships, generous donations, and some non-state revenue from the UM president’s office.

Fortunately, the home team usually wins. If that happens again this weekend, it’ll be a 19-year streak. Go Griz!

—Reported and Written by Rachel Seidensticker

This post is part of a partnership between the Missoula Independent and the Fall 2011 Online News class at the University of Montana School of Journalism. Students will be filing several reports about Homecoming 2011.

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