Like 'an Alabama football weekend': Multiple spring events have UA staff stretched thin in May

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Friday, May 10, 2019
Arkansas baseball fans are shown during a game against LSU on Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Fayetteville. Crowds are expected to reach record levels this weekend and, coupled with other events like graduation and the SEC Track and Field Outdoor Championships, will provide an economic boost to the Fayetteville economy.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas baseball fans are shown during a game against LSU on Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Fayetteville. Crowds are expected to reach record levels this weekend and, coupled with other events like graduation and the SEC Track and Field Outdoor Championships, will provide an economic boost to the Fayetteville economy.

FAYETTEVILLE — Robert Mann, owner of The Stadium Shoppe on Razorback and a University of Arkansas graduate, is expecting to be very busy in the coming weeks.

Over the next month, Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas will serve as the hub for several Arkansas and NCAA-related sporting events, including baseball, track and field, golf and, potentially, softball.

This weekend alone, Arkansas is playing host to rival LSU in baseball at Baum-Walker Stadium and hosting the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships at John McDonnell Field.

The UA is hosting the 2019 NCAA Golf Championships at The Blessings Golf Club from May 16-29 as well. Arkansas' women have clinched a spot in the tournament on their home course; the men will attempt to do the same at a regional in Austin, Texas next week.

Barring a late-season collapse, Arkansas baseball, ranked No. 4 nationally, is likely to host postseason games on campus, and coach Courtney Deifel's softball team is a possible host as well, albeit a long shot.

These events, often well-attended, are boons to the local economy - hotels, restaurants and merchandise stores like Mann's, which is locally owned. May and June are two of the biggest months in regards to tourism in Fayetteville and collections for the city's hotel-motel-restaurant (HMR) tax, according to Hazel Hernandez, Director of Marketing and Communications with Experience Fayetteville.

"The way football has been going recently, baseball is actually better than football right now," Mann said. "With baseball right now, you’ll have 10,000-12,000 per game per weekend, so that’s 30,000 bodies going through the turnstiles over three days as opposed to one day with football. I would say baseball, right now especially, is stronger."

He added that the NCAA Golf Championships - which are off campus in Johnson, about five miles north of the university - likely won't have any impact on his store, and track fans visiting his location will hinge on weather and likely be supporters of Arkansas' opposition.

Baseball, on the other hand, is a different story.

"I’ll see a little bit for track, but the biggest impact is going to be baseball, and yes, it will be huge," said Mann, who experienced a record sales month last June thanks to Arkansas hosting regional and super regional games before advancing to the College World Series. "The impact that baseball will have is off the charts.

“Our buddies down at Foghorn's (a restaurant located across the street from Baum-Walker Stadium) will tell you the same thing: baseball is through the roof."

According to a study on the economic impact of the University of Arkansas conducted by Mervin Jebaraj, Director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, total visitor spending, covering 29 days with a home baseball game in Fayetteville during the 2018 season, amounted to $6.5 million, with the average visitor spending $155.11 per game.

Hosting postseason games, according to Jebaraj's study, brings in significant revenue - including sales tax - to the area. Visitor spending topped $3.6 million for NCAA regional and super regional games alone in 2018.

For context, visitors spent $2.9 million, an average of $43.49 per game, during the 2017-18 men's basketball season, or 17 days with home basketball games in Fayetteville.

Action-packed weekends are a "huge driver" for area hotels, according to Tyler Wilson, Regional Director of Sales and Marketing at Krushiker Hospitality Group, which has more than a half-dozen properties spread between Fayetteville and Rogers.

All official participants for this weekend’s SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships and the NCAA Golf Championships were able to be accommodated in Fayetteville, Springdale or Rogers, and LSU's baseball team is staying in Fayetteville, said Kevin Trainor, a spokesman for Arkansas athletics.

Chris Pohl, UA Senior Associate Athletics Director for Guest Experience and Event Management, said visitors bureaus in Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville have all been involved in preparation for the two-week NCAA Golf Championships.

“This sort of ancillary sports doing as well as they are is amazing for us," Wilson said. "This particular weekend - LSU and SEC outdoor - is tantamount to an Alabama-type (football) weekend.

"We are sold out through the weekend, then when we start getting into NCAA golf, we’re starting to get close to that as well. We’ve got quite a few properties and quite a few rooms on the market and we’re almost full or already full for those events.”

Sports aren't the only events driving demand for hotels this weekend and in the coming weeks. The UA spring graduation ceremonies will be held at Bud Walton Arena and Barnhill Arena on Friday and Saturday and will draw thousands of families from out of town; Arkansas high school state championships will be played at UA facilities, and more than a half-dozen local high schools will hold their graduation ceremonies at UA facilities the following weekend. The annual Walmart Shareholders Meeting at Walton Arena will conclude May 31, the first day of NCAA baseball regionals.

Hotels have been especially difficult to find in Northwest Arkansas this weekend. In addition to the baseball series, SEC track meet and UA graduation, the five-day Bentonville Film Festival is expected to draw 80,000 visitors, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Arkansas' baseball game against LSU on Saturday is sold out, with somewhere around 13,000 tickets distributed. Some baseball fans have reported securing lodging as far away as Eureka Springs, an hour's drive from campus.

Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek said it is all hands on deck in terms of staffing the various events, including graduations that are in facilities managed by the athletics department.

"You've got people on our staff who may be in roles they're not familiar with," Yurachek said. "This is a weekend for not only our event operations and facilities staff, but really our entire staff and people maybe doing some things that don't fall under their regular job duties, but under 'other duties as assigned.'

"Nobody is on vacation this week."

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