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Football big business for local restaurants, retailers

POSTED: August 29, 2014 1:04 a.m.

A group of friends eats Thursday evening at Wild Wing Cafe. They came to watch South Carolina play Texas A&M and root against USC, they said. "Because it's a big Georgia rivalry," said Jean Metzger, center right, sitting next to her husband, Bill. Carol and Bill Kruskamp sit with their backs to the camera.

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Football, at every level of competition, is more profitable than ever.

The average NFL team, for example, is worth $1.43 billion, according to Forbes.

Meanwhile, revenue generated by the 10 most profitable college teams, including the University of Georgia, increased from about $300 million in 2001 to about $759 million in 2012, according to a report in Bloom-
berg Businessweek. 

But the business of football trickles down to communities across the country, including Gainesville.

Several restaurants and retail stores in the city bank on football season.

“We wait for it all year,” said Ben Cortese, owner of Little Italy Pizzeria on Riverside Drive.

Little Italy has become the go-to place for Gainesville High School fans. They typically pour into the pizzeria after games at the nearby field.

Cortese said he keeps his restaurant open later on Friday nights to serve these patrons. He also caters to the crowd by offering beer and food specials, while increasing staff to handle the influx.

“You can’t get a table in here,” he said.

Cortese said his place is full even when Gainesville High plays away games. He’ll sometimes find an Internet feed of the game and project it on a large screen for local alumni.

Local high school football also has a place at Buffalo Wild Wings on Dawsonville Highway.

General Manager Mike Azotea said teams will sometimes come in for a meal and watch game film on the projector, dissecting their next opponent.

Azotea said football season, and the benefits to his restaurant, are no longer relegated to just the fall.

For example, the restaurant hosts fantasy football drafts in the summer, and gets packed during the NFL draft in the spring.

Of course, Saturdays and Sundays in the fall are special.

Azotea said he likes to create a gameday atmosphere for patrons, where they can feel comfortable cheering for their favorite teams and high-fiving their friends.

Azotea pointed out that waitresses sport mock football jerseys, one sign the restaurant caters to football-crazed customers in a family-friendly environment.

At Wild Wing Café on Jesse Jewell Parkway, Manager Lexie Brewer said a special menu has been created to cater to football fans.

She also makes sure her staffing is on the high end for weekend games.

But Brewer does point out that football season has its fiscal ups and downs.

For example, if the Georgia Bulldogs are playing at home, the restaurant is likely to be less busy, whereas an away game turns out the crowds.

The game time is also a critical variable. If Georgia is playing in prime time, for example, crowds tend to be larger.

Football season is not just beneficial to local restaurants, however.

Retail stores in the downtown square can piggyback on the season by selling apparel and other knickknacks sporting your favorite team’s logo.

Frames You-Nique sells everything from key chains and license plates to blankets and flags sporting the emblems of Southeastern Conference teams such as Georgia and Auburn.

Owner Don Griffin said he devotes about 10 percent of his store to this kind of merchandise come football season, specifically targeting the tailgating crowd.

He even sells miniature footballs with the Gainesville High School logo printed on the side.

Cozy Corner, meanwhile, has fashioned a window display full of Georgia Bulldogs memorabilia and apparel.

Owner Karen Davis said while she keeps items on hand year-round — Gainesville is a “loyal Bulldog town,” she said — football season is the time to market to tailgaters.

Whether it is coolers, blankets, even food products, Davis said she’s excited to help people enjoy the sense of community and camaraderie that comes with gameday.

“Tailgating is a big deal,” she said.

Of course, it helps when the local team does well.

Griffin, for example, said he stocks up on items based on a team’s success.

So if Georgia does well this year, expect a payoff for local restaurants and retailers.

But a poor-to-middling season could spell dwindling sales.

Go Dawgs!


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