The victories add up ... to cash

By Maura Wery

The beer trucks probably pulled up to their Aggieville unloading platforms a little earlier than normal Friday, and they may have lingered a bit longer as well. They had extra work to do. The Wildcats, 8-0 and ranked second in the BCS standings, host Oklahoma State Saturday night, and with the crowds expected Saturday nobody wants to run short.

Rusty Wilson, the owner of Kite’s Bar and Grille, characterizes recent home game business as “spectacular” with a crowd that is “energetic, excited and anxious.” The pump-up is even extending to non-game days; Wilson says weekday foot traffic is up 10 percent this fall, “and when the Cats play an away game every seat is occupied with many folks left standing.”

Even businesses that don’t sell beer made extra preparations Friday. At Varney’s Bookstore, owner Steve Levin said sales are up for the month of October and 20 percent higher for the year, and that is with one less home game this season than in 2011. Brad Everett, manager of the Hilton Garden Inn, estimates that business is up about 30 percent during the thus-far perfect football season. “I think it helps fill the sales, if you may,” he said. “Not only the hotels, but restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores alike. “

Whether the 7 p.m. start time for Saturday’s game with Oklahoma State will help or hurt business bottom lines depends to a great extent on what business one is in. Some merchants love it.

“When there are (evening) games, everybody has all day to shop,” said Kurstin Harris, owner of the Chef Café downtown. “They then spend the night because it’s so late.” And many of the overnighters stop in at the Chef for breakfast Sunday morning.

Evan Tuttle heads up the Aggieville Business Association, and he acknowledges that the timing question cuts in numerous different directions. “We’re 106 different and very diverse businesses,” he said, although conceding that “overall,” 2:30 start times are preferred. Earlier or later starts, he said, tend to either make people leave for the stadium tailgates too soon or cut the night short. Levin describes 2:30 starts as ideal, but prefers evening games to morning ones. “Six p.m. games are definitely better than 11 a.m.,” he said, mainly because those games give people a chance to shop before getting over to the game.

While enthusiasm about the team’s success is translating to revenue, business owners acknowledge that even bad football weekends are good – especially given the way Bill Snyder has lifted the program from its depths. There are 2,500 hotel rooms in the Junction City-Manhattan area – 1,176 in Manhattan alone – and Convention and Visitors Bureau director Karen Hibbard says you’ll have a tough time finding one these days.

“Everyone wins during a game day,” she said.

“Even when we aren’t doing so good, our stadium is usually full and people come down to Aggieville to shop,” Levin said. “Bill Snyder has built a foundation that’s really strong and we’ve steadily grown. Our store is full during Missouri State or Texas Tech.”

Wilson notes that when he started his business in 1989, he employed 24 people. He now employs 216 and business is growing. “This only verifies that one man can make a difference and we all should be grateful for (Bill Snyder) and his outstanding leadership abilities,” he said. 

In some instances, merchants are limited by their own surroundings in the degree they can capitalize on the uptick in interest. Harris’ restaurant was recently featured in a segment about Snyder that was taped at the Chef.  That brought in some extra business, but the gain was limited by the size of the facility. “We picked up a bit because we were on ESPN, but on the weekends we can only do so much,” she said.

It is hard to tell what’s going to happen if the team keeps winning, but if they go and win at the BCS Championship game, that could be a huge impact on business.

“When I talked to other university bookstores that have had teams that win the championship, it can mean millions of dollars,” Levin said. Patrick Lee, who runs N Zone Sportswear, said if you view the potential revenue from a 7-5 season and a modest bowl as 1X, then a Big 12 championship roughly equates to 5X, and a national championship appearance could be 10X to 15X.

“The difference between 3-8 and 8-3 is $20 million to the local economy,” Lee estimated.

Wilson senses, however, that KSU fans are buying in to Snyder’s “one game at a time” mantra and not looking ahead to championship talk.  “I hope K-Staters and the people of Manhattan do not take this for granted, “ he said. “This is an incredible experience, sit back and enjoy the ride.”

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