The Griz beat Maine 27–20 in Saturday’s season opener in Washington-Grizzly Stadium—which holds about 24,000 fans, 16,004 of whom are season ticket holders, according to the UM Adams Center’s Assistant Director of Business Affairs Jan Pierce. Add to those numbers the tailgaters who don’t always buy tickets, and that’s a lot of people descending on Missoula for a game.
A casual survey of Saturday’s attendees suggests that many Griz fans go from the game to the bars. But how do other downtown businesses fare on game day? It’s not how you’d think.
“When the Griz are out of town, we sell as much or more as when they’re in town,” says Worden’s Manager Mark Thomsen, who says business is crazy until about noon on game days, and then slows.
Big Dipper owner Charlie Beaton concurs. His sales are down during the game, he says, and then afterward most people go to the bars. He’s not complaining, but just figures that “alcohol and ice cream don’t mix.”
Scott Laisy, owner of Butterfly Herbs, says that business the day before and after a Griz game can be busy, but game day is generally quiet. But he also echoes what Fact & Fiction Manager Dave Johnson says: that there’s an increase in wives shopping during Griz games while their families are in the stadium.
Some of the biggest Griz business, though, generates no sales at all. Tailgater Brian Miller drives from Great Falls with chili and barbecue fixings donated from The Feedlot and Borries restaurants in Great Falls. Miller estimates he gave away 200 burgers, 100 hot dogs and 200 ears of corn on Saturday. He’s just throwing a big tailgate “for the hell of it,” he says, and “not trying to sell anything.”
How can you find Miller’s tailgate? Last Saturday it was easy: Two rosy-cheeked fans stumbling toward campus with armloads of free bags of potato chips left a trail of yellow Lays bags straight back to Miller. The game was winding up by then, says Miller, and he didn’t want to throw any food away.