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Iowa restaurants, hotels mourn loss of fall revenue from canceled nonconference football games

Sarah Kay LeBlanc
Des Moines Register

The news that the Big Ten Conference will not play nonconference football games this fall came as a blow to already injured Iowa restaurants and hotels.

The cancellation of highly-anticipated football games, such as Iowa's matchups against Iowa State and Northern Iowa, is disappointing for fans but potentially crippling for restaurants, bars and hotels throughout the state, especially Iowa City. The Cy-Hawk and UNI games were both set to take place in Kinnick Stadium.

Kris Kass, a manager of ReUnion Brewery about a mile from Kinnick Stadium, said she's concerned the announcement is the first step to canceling all games this fall. 

"Any game brings in customers, so as a business it's scary," she said.

Even if games aren't canceled, she said she isn't sure how many people will attend the games if COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in Iowa. She said the brewery needs the business but wants to keep its employees and customers safe.

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"We’re trying to do it the right way here, but as a football fan and a Hawkeye fan you want as many games as possible, especially after you’ve had not a lot of anything going on sports-wise for a while," she said.

ReUnion joins other bars and restaurants in the state that will feel the loss of nonconference games. Jessica Dunker, president of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said gamedays are "tremendous" sources of business.

"Anything that’s limiting people moving around the state or in and out of communities that rely on any type of event will have an impact on restaurants and bars because we rely on that influx of people as part of our bottom line," she said. "It’s just another blow in what has been arguably the most difficult time in the history of our industry in the state."

Every month, the restaurant industry is losing about $300 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunker said. Where the anticipated rivalry games could have been a sorely-needed boost in revenue is now a continued loss of profits.

The effect goes beyond just Iowa City, Ames, and Cedar Falls, too, Dunker said.

"There’s no doubt that gameday fills the restaurants and bars in the communities that host them, but beyond that, you see an uptick in traffic in restaurants and bars that are on the path to those communities as well," she said.

Hotels in surrounding communities will also likely be a little emptier on would-be gamedays.

During a regular season, the games between in-state rivals can result in sold-out hotels for two nights in the communities hosting the games, said Craig Walter, vice president of the Iowa Lodging Association. This year, he said, hotels were already anticipating fewer visitors with fewer fans in the stands.

"This only exacerbates the problem even more with eliminating those games," he said.

Sarah LeBlanc covers trending news for the Register. Reach her at 515-284-8161 or sleblanc@registermedia.com.

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