Local business people gathered early Friday morning in the Appalachian State Athletics Building for “Wake Up Watauga,” sponsored by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. Broadcast on WATA radio, the program featured highlights from the upcoming football and volleyball seasons, and findings from an economic impact study by the University on the contributions of the Athletic program on the local economy.
Ash Morgan, Director of the Center for Economic Research and Policy at Appalachian State, described a model created by his department to measure the dollars brought to the community, both directly and indirectly. “We estimate the total economic effect to be $54 million annually in regional economic activity,” said Morgan. “The athletic program provides wages and salaries to staff, some of which is spent on consumer goods in the area. Visiting teams spend money at hotels and food service providers. Visitors attending the events stay in the area and spend while they’re here.” In addition, said Morgan, the program produces $3.6 million in local tax revenue and is responsible for 640 jobs in the region.
“These numbers are for one period in time,” said Morgan. “As the program continues to grow, these numbers will continue to grow.”
Doug Gillin, Director of Athletics at Appalachian, commissioned the study with Morgan’s department. “We wanted to understand what ASU Athletics mean to the everyday lives of the community.” Gillin and his staff realized that ASU Athletics can make a difference to the local economy, and to the University, by bringing teams here that people want to see. “The number one money generator for the program is ticket sales,” said Gillin. He described how he and his staff started calling teams to invite them to play on the Mountaineer home field. “That’s how we got the Miami game last year, by making a phone call. The attendance that day, 34,658, was the largest in school history.”
“I didn’t think that we could surpass that record with Wake Forest, but then the ticket sales started coming in,” Gillin continued. “It’s gonna be bigger.” A combination of a local rivalry that has lasted for decades, a visiting team fan base that is close by, and App State fans that are excited about a game with Wake Forest promises to break attendance records at the game on September 23.
“When the stadium fills up,” said Gillin, “everybody does better.”
Local retailers, restaurants, and hotels will attest to the impact of game day traffic on their bottom line. David Jackson, president of the Boone Area Chamber, spoke of long term impact. “From a business perspective, we want to help our local companies create a big show. There’s a big show on the field, and we want to do our best to create an atmosphere to bring people back to the community. We want to make sure our businesses have the opportunity and resources to make the best of these events.” He continued, “Many people will be visiting the High Country for the first time, or perhaps in seasons when they don’t usually visit. The goal is to get them to want to return to our area.”
Matt Ginipro, Head Coach of the Appalachian State Volleyball team, described such an event. “Last week the University of South Carolina team came up to train and played a preseason exhibition match with us. They wanted to escape the heat of Columbia, came up here, rented a cabin for a few days. They ate in our restaurants, did some hiking and sightseeing. Now they’re talking about making this an annual thing.”
Head Coach for ASU Football, Scott Satterfield, expressed his appreciation for the local business community. “Our success goes hand-in-hand. We help each other,” he said. Dog Gillin cited some recent national press highlights for the ASU Football program. “We were named the 39th best football program in America. We’re #1 in attendance vs. capacity. According to Fox, we have the top football brand in the state of North Carolina. We have the 10th happiest fan base in America,” said Gillin. “We’re really proud of all of these accomplishments. We have a robust dream to build a $35 million facility in the end zone.”
Gillin concluded, “Appalachian being successful has a lot of ramifications for our local commerce.”