Big game will have less economic punch

Georgia and Alabama football fans may be trading trash-talk texts ahead of Saturday’s big face-off at the Georgia Dome, but the game’s statewide economic impact could be as much as $14 million smaller than previous SEC championships that paired out-of-state teams, experts estimate.

Here’s why: When it comes to pumping money into the state, most UGA Bulldog fans won’t count like they would if they were visiting Georgia from other states.

Economists reason that Georgia doesn’t get an economic boost when Bulldog fans drive in from Athens and Savannah because that’s just moving money from one part of the state to another.

And the Crimson Tide may not bring quite as much cash to town as other out-of-state contenders, either. Most Alabama fans will drive the 200 miles to Atlanta, rather than fly, and many may head home after the game, rather than splurge on hotels, cabs and restaurant meals.

“This (game) is especially high-profile … but it doesn’t really change the (economic) dynamic,” said Bruce Seaman, a Georgia State University economics professor who has been studying the economic impact of sporting and cultural events for three decades.

This may be the biggest game in 30 years for No. 3 Georgia. If the Bulldogs win, the team will battle No. 1 Notre Dame for the national championship. But the annual SEC title game itself is old-hat for Atlanta. Since 1994, Atlanta has hosted the SEC’s title game, usually drawing a capacity crowd to the 71,250-seat Georgia Dome, no matter which colleges are playing.

The local nature of this year’s rivalry between neighboring states means many fewer fans will be booking hotel rooms and spending as much money as they would if they were coming from SEC schools like LSU in Louisiana or Texas A&M in Texas.

Seaman estimates that could cost the Georgia economy up to $11 million in reduced impact, compared to previous SEC championship games. The SEC championship game typically injects about $36 million into the state economy when it involves two out-of-state teams, he said.

Compared to the big-money game between Florida and Alabama in 2008, the Georgia-Alabama game will likely draw about 26,500 fewer out-of-state fans and amount to about $14.3 million less for the state economy, estimated the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), which operates the Georgia Dome.

The authority estimates that the Georgia-Alabama game will likely draw about 36,500 football fans from out of state, bringing $16.6 million in direct spending and a total economic impact of $31.5 million. That’s well short of the Florida-Alabama game in 2008. It drew about 63,000 fans from out of state, generating a $45.8 million boost for the Georgia economy, according to GWCCA estimates.

When estimating economic impact on the state, economists count out-of-state visitors’ average spending on hotels, transportation and other expenses based on surveys of fans. Then they increase the total spending by a multiplier to account for additional spin-off effects of later spending by local employees and businesses who made money off the event.

The economic boost will still be about the same as previous years from the viewpoint of Atlanta and neighboring counties, economists said. That’s because an Athens fan’s money is just as much an “import” to Atlanta as a Tuscaloosa fan’s. Atlanta’s hotels are still booking up and downtown restaurants will still get swamped with out-of-towners.

Seaman estimated that Atlanta, Fulton County and other nearby counties will reap up to a $30 million boost from the weekend’s spending – roughly $3 million lower than in previous years. The Atlanta total is higher than the Georgia tally because it includes spending by fans coming from Columbus and Savannah, for instance, that don’t get counted in the state-wide total.

The Hyatt Regency Atlanta, the city’s second largest hotel with 1,260 rooms, is 95 percent booked for the weekend, with two large game-related events, said spokesman Walter Woods.

Ian D. Macken, managing partner at Meehan’s Public House, an Irish-style pub in downtown Atlanta, said he expects many of the Georgia fans to head home after the game. But he expects plenty of business before the game and heavy crowds afterwards, especially from Alabama boosters.

“I expect them to party on into the wee hours,” he said, adding that he’s calling in his full staff of 40 and stocking up on foods and drinks. “I don’t think we can fit any more fish and chips in the fridge.”

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