The Atlantic Coast Conference’s title game in uptown Charlotte, for many people, has been one last hurrah of the college football season, no matter who was playing. That means reserving parking spots for big tailgate parties, staying in uptown hotels and forking over thousands of dollars for tickets.
Now, the ACC’s decision to pull its annual football title game from Charlotte because of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 has tourism-oriented businesses scrambling to adjust their plans, less than three months before the game was to be held at Bank of America Stadium.
The ACC has roughly 1,500 room nights booked at the Westin Charlotte for teams, conference staff and sponsors. The hotel won’t get another group that big at this point, so to mitigate the impact of the cancellation, it’s looking to sell to much smaller groups.
“It’s a very difficult time to fill,” hotel manager Leo Percopo says. “Your corporate group business obviously isn’t going to have a group (reservation) during a weekend in December.”
The Westin is one of six hotels the ACC had contracted with for the championship game weekend, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. That compares with the 28 contracted for the NBA All-Star Game, which was also relocated from North Carolina because of House Bill 2, the law passed in March that limits protections for LGBT individuals.
“Hotel and hospitality tourism employees were looking forward to having another big group in town. They were going to be getting extra hours to make money for their families. So that’s what really makes it so sad,” said Sid Smith, executive director of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association.
Ancillary tourism businesses have also felt the sting of a short-notice cancellation.
Take Charlotte-based Preferred Parking, for example, which leases parking spots uptown. For the 2014 game, when Georgia Tech played Florida State, spots were priced comparably to a Carolina Panthers home playoff game, and the company sold out six blocks around the stadium.
Ben Sands, the company’s general manager, says the cancellation of the game so far is equivalent to a loss of $150,000 or $200,000.
“The staff depends on that event for generating some extra income for themselves for the holiday season,” Sands says. “It’s a pretty crushing loss.”
Tom Holden, general manager with Rose Chauffeured Transportation, says the limousine and bus company is losing as much as $400,000 from the departure of the NBA All-Star and ACC games.
“That’s significant, and that’s just one company,” Holden says. “There are 25 (transportation) companies in Charlotte that are losing money.”
Rose had to pay $8,000 for permits to provide transportation at NCAA championship games around the country, he says. “So we are paying for something we can’t even do in our own state,” he says.
Since starting here in 2010, the game has grown in prominence over the years, and it now ranks among Charlotte’s biggest annual events, with an estimated total economic impact in 2015 of $32.4 million, according to the CRVA.
The Carolina Panthers are under contract with the ACC to hold the game at Bank of America Stadium through 2019, though it doesn’t take place on one of the stadium’s five rent-free days. A Panthers spokesman wouldn’t discuss contract terms, though the stadium presumably stands to lose revenue on concessions without the ACC game.
Already more than 40,000 tickets had been sold to the Dec. 3 title game, says Will Webb of the Charlotte Sports Foundation. About 35,000 of those were sold to local companies and individuals, and another 10,000 or so go to schools, he says. Ticket prices range from $25-$195.
The foundation is now working to issue ticket refunds for people like Brad Bradford, a retired attorney from Charlotte living on Sullivan’s Island.
Bradford’s daughter will be flying in from Australia to get married a week after the ACC Championship game in Charlotte. So he bought 29 tickets to the game for her bachelorette party – his family is full of UNC graduates, so she wanted to go to the game no matter who was playing. He estimates he spent about $8,000 for the 300-level club seats, and is hearing from Ticketmaster that there are “refund restrictions” for the event. Ticketmaster couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
Bradford says he intends to take legal action against the ACC, citing its contractual agreement with ticket buyers. “It’s a violation of contract law, ordinary decency,” Bradford says.
Businesses are still concerned about another major sporting event in Charlotte, the CIAA basketball tournament, which has taken place every February here since 2006. The oldest African-American sports conference in the U.S. is based in Charlotte, and has said it opposes HB2. The decision on whether or not to keep games in North Carolina is now up to its board.
The CRVA estimates its 2015 total economic impact to be $55.6 million, making it bigger than the ACC game.
“We’re nervous now about the CIAA. That’s the next pillar to fall in the sports event cycle for us. It’s probably an even more profound impact because it lasts several days,” says Sands of Preferred Parking.