Auburn businesses discuss impact of first home game amid pandemic

Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 7:11 PM EDT
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AUBURN, Ala (WTVM) - The first home football at Auburn University for 2020 is in the books, but it comes with a different look during the pandemic. Local businesses shared that the weekend went better than expected.

Because of COVID-19, students at Auburn University and Tiger fans saw changes at the game.

“In the stadium, they had seats with two or four people that were all spread out by six feet,” one student, Kyla Lenehan, said. “They had the eagle flying on the screen, and the marching band was video taped from afar and then shown on the screen too.”

With these differences, and other factors like no tailgating and 20 percent capacity at Jordan-Hare Stadium, it was different for businesses in downtown Auburn too.

“The bar scene was definitely dialed back,” Kim Wirth, the owner of the Collegiate Hotel, said. “You didn’t have that foot traffic milling about. You don’t have the opposing team, a lot of alumni coming back.”

Still, some small business owners said the weekend numbers were better than expected.

The Collegiate Hotel was at capacity, but Wirth said rates were lower than normal years.

“We’re probably seeing at least a 30 percent reduction in what we’d be getting in room rates,” she told News Leader 9. “We [would] be able to sell those rooms at a higher premium, like we have in past years, but people don’t want to pay that premium if they can’t even get into the game.”

The owner of Halftime Sports Bar, Auburn Draft House and Esposito’s said they did about about half of the usual home game business per day in sales at Halftime.

“We did [$5,000], but this was a Kentucky so our average is probably $8,000-$10,000,” David Esposito said. “Those numbers are a little bit better.”

Going forward for the rest of the season, these business owners said they are grateful there is football but told News Leader Nine there’s still a lot of unknown-- details that can make big impacts.

“We still have the 50% capacity [allowed in restaurants],” Esposito said. "That’s really what’s hurting us the most, but we also understand. "

Wirth is excited for the rest of the season.

“What we’re really eager to see is university going to allow more patrons outside of students,” she said. “Are they going to be allowed to go to the games? That’ll have a direct impact I think for all of the businesses.”

Auburn plays the University of Georgia Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

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