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Charlotte left behind this weekend as ACC fans flock to Orlando for title game

Clemson Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson, left, strikes a Heisman pose after he and his teammates defeated North Carolina 45-37 in the 2015 Dr. Pepper ACC Football Championship game at Bank of America Stadium.
Clemson Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson, left, strikes a Heisman pose after he and his teammates defeated North Carolina 45-37 in the 2015 Dr. Pepper ACC Football Championship game at Bank of America Stadium. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Every first Saturday of December since 2010 in Charlotte has featured hoards of ACC football fans setting up tailgates in front of Bank of America Stadium, dining out at uptown restaurants and bars and spending thousands to stay at area hotels.

Instead, this weekend Clemson and Virginia Tech teams and their loyalists will travel hundreds of miles south to Orlando for the Atlantic Coast Conference title game Dec. 3, a move the ACC announced in September over its opposition to North Carolina’s House Bill 2.

The Charlotte Regional Visitor Authority estimates the ACC title game is the city’s second-largest annual event, behind the CIAA basketball tournament in February. The ACC game’s total economic impact last year was an estimated $32.4 million, a tourism boost Orlando officials look forward to enjoying. But Charlotte businesses are feeling the void.

Rose Chauffeured Transportation, Charlotte’s largest ground transportation company, for example, said the canceled business from the ACC game amounts to approximately $100,000. CEO Tom Holden said business from the ACC title game is akin to a Carolina Panthers home game.

For the championship, Rose was under contract with the Panthers to transport stadium workers, volunteers, police, handicapped fans and others in eight motor coaches to the stadium from remote parking lots. Because of the scale of the event, it’s been impossible to fill the void with smaller parties, Holden said.

The ACC had contracted roughly 13,000 room nights at area hotels, the CRVA said, about 1,500 of which were at the Westin Charlotte, the ACC’s headquarters every year for teams, conference staff, officials and sponsors. Management has said it’s been working to fill smaller blocks to make up the lost revenue.

The ACC and NCAA both decided in September to move their tournament games out of North Carolina over opposition to HB2, the law limiting legal protections for LGBT residents. The controversial measure also mandates that transgender people in government-run buildings use the bathroom that matches their birth certificates. In July, the NBA opted to move its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte over the law.

Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, the group responsible for bringing the ACC game to Orlando, pointed to the $208 million in renovations just done at Camping World Stadium, where the game will be held, as a good investment in light of the new business won.

“It’s just further substantiation that this investment Orlando made in stadium reconstruction has paid off. The success we’ve enjoyed attracting new events has come fast and furious, and I couldn’t be happier for the people that live here,” Hogan said.

George Aguel, president & CEO of Visit Orlando, similarly said: “We are proud to support the ACC and are focused on welcoming fans to Orlando.”

Meanwhile, Will Webb of the Charlotte Sports Foundation said all the 40,000 tickets bought to the game in Charlotte were refunded within four to five days of the ACC’s decision to relocate. The sports group has been responsible for putting on the game since 2010, and Webb said they’re optimistic about its return to Charlotte, if changes are made to HB2.

“Everybody’s expressed a desire for the game to return to Charlotte,” said Will Webb, CEO of the Charlotte Sports Foundation. “The ACC has been a good partner of Charlotte, and we look forward to an eventual return (of its title football game.)

The ACC was under contract to host its title football game in Charlotte through 2019. Before Charlotte, the ACC hosted the game in Jacksonville from 2005-2007, and in Tampa from 2008-2009.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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