CINCINNATI — UC football is making the cash register ring in sports bars and souvenir shops all over town, but what kind of economic impact is Cincinnati getting from a college football program near the top of the national rankings?
That depends on what you mean by impact.
“I’m certain that we are having an impact on our local economy,” said UC Athletic Director John Cunningham. “We’ve sold out three of the last four games. We’re sold out again this week. Certainly, when people are coming into Nippert, they’re spending money in and around Clifton.”
Marty Angiulli can attest to that. The owner of Martino’s Sports Bar on Short Vine said 2021 is shaping up to be his best year in decades, with game-day revenue reaching $20,000 – or three to five times his normal volume.
“This football season, I don’t know what you can compare it to,” he said. “Did Moses parting the Red Sea help the Jewish people? That’s the comparison. I mean, it’s that big.”
Cunningham expects UC sports programs to eclipse last year’s $81 million in total revenue, thanks to increased ticket sales and donations. But he’s yet to see any analysis of whether the Bearcats’ on-the-field success has led to increased enrollment or off-campus spending.
“Obviously, there will be a day and time that we’ll go back and look at the economic impact of this season, but that will happen down the line,” he said. “I know people from Texas and Maryland and New Jersey that come in every week for our games. So, we certainly are driving people from all over the country to our games.”
College sports programs all over the country have quantified the impact of their programs by attaching multipliers to on-campus and off-campus spending. That led the University of Maryland to conclude last September that each Terrapins game “supports an estimated $27.3 million in economic activity in the state of Maryland,” including $6.4 million in labor income and $1.8 million in state and local taxes.
But a 2007 study concluded college football had no discernable impact on employment or personal income in the 63 cities it analyzed.
“Neither the number of home games played, the winning percentage of the local team, nor winning a national championship has a discernible impact on either employment or personal income in the cities where the teams play,” wrote the study’s authors. “While successful college football teams may bring fame to their alma mater, fortune appears to be a bit more elusive.”
On the fame front, UC is more than holding its own, with national media outlets tracking both its rise and the Heisman Trophy potential of quarterback Desmond Ridder.
More than 6.6 million people saw UC’s last three games, according to the ratings tracker ShowBuzzDaily. UC’s win against Notre Dame drew its highest regular-season TV rating since 2012.
On social media, Cunningham said UC has the nation’s fastest-growing Instagram account among college sports programs. And its TikTok account is attracting attention with well-produced videos like this Sept. 20 offering.
@gobearcatsfb BACK IN BLACK FOR GAME TWO. #Bearcats #collegefootball #fyp #foryou ♬ SICKO MODE - Travis Scott
“It’s really fun to hear the current students talk about the buzz on TikTok for UC football,” said Roseann Hassey, assistant marketing professor at UC. “We were just talking about it in class yesterday.”
Because of TikTok’s popularity with younger audiences, Hassey thinks UC could be in for an enrollment spike.
“I’ve actually heard that from people in the community, that their children are really interested in UC when they might have been considering going to another Ohio state school,” Hassey said.
“That brand recognition is almost impossible to quantify,” Cunningham said. “We’re on ABC this week, national television. It means we’re in every bar and restaurant in the country, from Anchorage, Alaska, to New York City to Dallas, Texas, right? That’s a big thing. And it helps not only our football program, but it helps every single one of our sports.”