MISSOULA — Just 15 days into 2021, the Montana Grizzlies and Montana State Bobcats both opted out of the Big Sky Conference spring football season.
The season was initially moved to the spring as a result of the postponement of the fall season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Griz football is a big economic driver in the Missoula community. So for local businesses, spring football was a chance for some lost revenue from the fall to be regained.
“Six home games are about half of our business for the year, so it’s pretty devastating when that goes away," said Carl Rummel, owner of The M Store in downtown Missoula. "We’ve done a little better in online, had pretty good holidays but you just can’t replace 25,000 fans dropping into Missoula for a game weekend.”
Montana was due to play six home football games in the 2020 fall slate. In the spring season, that number was cut down to three home games.
Per a study by the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research in 2016, each Griz home football game brings in an estimated $2.53 million worth of spending from out-of-area attendees to the local economy. So when the fall season was postponed last August, losing Griz football hurt.
But spring football offered a beacon of hope to businesses hoping to make some of that money back, though the impact still wouldn't have been the full effect due to the number of games and county guidelines for local businesses.
“We were hoping for a real nice business bump from spring football," said Paul Maki, manager at the Press Box. "Even though they were going to limit the stadium seating and that, we’re so close (in proximity) that it probably wouldn’t have affected us at all except for our own in-house capacity. We would’ve been full to capacity without question.”
Clint Burson with the Missoula Chamber of Commerce said some business sectors might have benefited more than others, even if the spring season was different from normal and abridged.
“Hotels and restaurants are probably the two biggest areas that would’ve seen a bump," Burson said. "They would’ve had people from out-of-state coming in, more than likely. Locally, the folks that are out going to restaurants before or after a game. Some of the tailgating options I think could’ve seen a bump. It is a pretty limited group.”
But that impact stretches past people dining in or drinking, with places like Red’s Bar doing more activities specifically with the Griz football team that likely wouldn't have happened.
“We probably wouldn’t have had fans in the stands which is a big part of what we do," said Mike Helean, owner of Red's Bar. "We do buses to the games, and you know we’re full before the game and obviously after the game, so it would’ve been just a different feel with spring football.”
Sports around the country are back and operational, so sports bars and restaurants have seen business associated with leagues like the NFL and UFC pay-per-view events that have brought customers in. Losing last year's NCAA Tournament hurt, but gaining it this year will be a bonus.
Griz football would’ve added into that mix, and on Friday UM announced it had added a spring game with NCAA Division II Central Washington that will be played on April 10 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
But for the most part, all eyes look toward the fall when Montana is scheduled to take on Washington in Seattle on Sept. 4 to kick-off the 2021 season.
“Well we’re definitely looking forward to getting back to normal in Missoula and not just us but the bars and restaurants and hotels," Rummel said. "I mean, all of us downtown, Griz football is huge and we totally miss it and we’re very excited for the day when everyone gets back in the stadium.”