NCAA Regional a grand slam for local economy
Football season has come to Oxford a little earlier than expected in the form of an NCAA baseball regional. For the first time since 2009, Ole Miss is beginning postseason play at Oxford-University Stadium and the fans, merchants and those involved in local tourism, are taking time to celebrate the three-day event.
For Mary Allen Hedges, Director of Visit Oxford – located at 415 South Lamar Blvd., on the Square – the unplanned boost to the economy is welcomed.
“I’m not as big of a baseball buff as I need to be, but I felt like early in the season, this wasn’t too expected to have this. Then the closer we got to the end of the season, I kept hearing chatter that this could happen. It was a nice, pleasant surprise for sure,” Hedges said. “The summer is a little quieter here. We do have orientations in June which are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, so this was just a great kind of off-week to promote.”
Hedges and the staff at Visit Oxford are taking the opportunity to showcase the city to visiting fans from Georgia Tech, Jacksonville State and even those from Washington that venture across the country from Seattle. A Double Decker bus tour is planned for Saturday starting at 11 a.m. The tour includes stops at historic places in town and of course, a great view of campus, all at a low cost of $5.
Tickets for the regional have been on sale ever since Sunday when the NCAA committee selected Ole Miss as designated host site. Ole Miss athletic officials are expecting upwards of 10,000 fans to attend the regional, per day. The economic impact is huge, at any time of the year, especially in the summer.
“We’ll see that come back to us when we get our hotel, motel, food and beverage tax numbers back to us. I’m sure that we’ll see a pretty significant increase for the month of June and it be a major contributor just based on the fact that we’ve got three other teams from out of town. Our hotel rooms are now going to be full because of this regional,” Hedges said. “People are going to be dining out and all around. It’s good news for everyone in town. I know people are really excited. I know my mom was calling first thing (Tuesday) morning to get tickets for this weekend. People are fired up that they have something to do now. It’s great for the university, great for Oxford, just really great, especially if the stars align, and Ole Miss ends up playing Mississippi State here in the super regional. You have to be prepared for that type of crowd.”
Chan Patel, the Director of Operations for Charter Road Hospitality, has been involved in the hotel business in Oxford since 1991. He has seen the kind of economic impact baseball regionals have made in the past, starting with the first in 2004.
“You can’t budget for it but if it happens to fall in your lap, we’re ready for it. We make sure that we’re fully staffed and our guest rooms are ready like any other time, but we want to be ready for the influx of people this weekend for sure,” said Patel, adding he cherishes the relationship he has with Ole Miss when it comes to housing teams at the hotels he is associated with, such as Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express and Suites. “The company has added a hotel since the last regional and in the process of adding another one at this time. I remember all of the past regionals being a boost, no question, and having a lot of the freshmen orientations circle around that was huge.
“The parents, if planned correctly, were able to bring their child to visit the university and stay an extra day, or come before to see the regionals. It allows them to get another perspective on the university and Oxford and the overall atmosphere. It just gives them a better idea of what they can look forward to and expect. It’s like a mini football game weekend.”
From a restaurant perspective, the regionals add extra money to the cash register at the time when students aren’t in town in mass.
“For this time of year, anything we can get in town to bring people in definitely helps out a lot,” said Ayers Spencer, co-owner of Oby’s, which opened in July of 2005. “It seems like the summers have gotten bigger and bigger because there are more kids enrolled in summer school and since we built FNC Park, there are a lot of tournaments out there that bring a lot of people into the community that wouldn’t normally come to Oxford. All of that has helped, but with the excitement of the baseball team, and having not hosted one here in five years, I expect the fans to really come in droves.”
Apart from Spencer expecting this year’s regional to be bigger than in past years because of the hiatus in between regionals, he felt like Oby’s would be busier than normal due to a large youth baseball tournament at FNC, where approximately 60 teams have signed up to play.
“I’m expecting a busy weekend all the way around and more people in Oxford that normally wouldn’t be here in a late May, early June weekend,” Spencer said. “The good thing about being around for nine years is you learn what to expect and when to expect it. We stay on toes about that. We know when we’re going to be busy and then make adjustments if we’re not. We had a good feeling they were going to get a regional and hopefully a super regional, which is still a possibility.”