Last month, the Big Ten announced it would be postponing football season, leaving Bloomington without IU football for the first time since 1890.
The city, fans and university communities were prepared for the reality of a football-free fall, until the Big Ten reversed course last week, announcing the return of football to campuses across the conference.
Prior to the season returning, Bloomington businesses were expecting significant financial losses without football. Despite football’s return, without fans being allowed to attend games, these businesses will still experience some of those losses.
“When the season resumes Oct. 24, spectators will not be allowed, so we can not expect the impact that the football season has traditionally had on tourism spending, ” said Yaël Ksander, City of Bloomington communications director, in an email. “Meantime, the city of Bloomington is implementing a number of measures to stimulate the downtown restaurant/retail economy, included expanded seating in the right of way, including several blocks of Kirkwood over the weekends and parklets in front of numerous restaurants and free 15-minute parking to facilitate easy take-out meal pickup.”
With a season back in place, many Bloomington businesses are expecting their crowds to pick back up with IU students and local IU football fans looking for a place to watch the game. With fans not allowed in the stadium, the market for restaurants and bars to watch the game at will be huge.
“During home game Saturdays, we’ll typically have a wait of 30-40 minutes or longer to get a table,” said Pete Mikolaitis, general manager at Nick’s English Hut. “Nick’s is very fortunate to have passionate IU fans, even during road games. We typically see good business with the building almost reaching capacity during the game. Most people are there to watch the game, but also enjoy the upbeat atmosphere among other die-hard IU fans.”
While football brings a spike in business to Bloomington restaurants, that also means for hectic days for service workers.
”From a business perspective, football games are very tough on us,” said Ed Schwartzman, co-owner of BuffaLouie’s. “They put an enormous strain on our staff, equipment and store. The seven or eight home games each year are easily in our top ten days of the year in terms of revenue, and we desperately need that revenue to keep the lights on, but those eight days are eight days of insanity.”
However, not every local establishment has been around long enough to have the packed football crowds of other restaurants.
While places like Nicks and BuffaLouies are viewed as Bloomington establishments, having been favorites of alumni since their college days at IU, newer restaurants are still trying to break onto the scene. Without fans this season, they may get their opportunity.
“We are still young enough that we still don’t have a heavy following for people coming here for sporting events simply to watch,” said Martin Moore, Fat Dan’s Chicago Style Deli’s general manager. “Last year as we started to grow to our then peak, we started to have people come in to watch basketball and baseball games. I could theoretically see some of that growth continuing in the football season, especially if there are no fans in the stands and more people are looking for places to find a televised event.”
With the football season finally returning, many Bloomington restaurants will rely on the economic boost from football to help soften the financial losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses and the city are counting on locals and students to support the local economy.
“We hope that members of our community also step up to the extent they can afford to support our local restaurants and retail sector to help compensate for the loss of revenues these venues could expect during a normal fall season,” Ksander said.