As College Football And Fans Return, Local Businesses Prepare For The Crowds
The University of Utah will open Rice-Eccles Stadium for full capacity Thursday evening for the first time since the 2019-20 football season. Fans were not allowed at games last season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Paul Kirk, with the university’s athletic department, said they’re anticipating big crowds with students back on campus and the new addition of the Ken Garff Red Endzone.
“It's been almost two years since we have had a game with full attendance on campus,” Kirk said. “We're also opening the red zone stadium that adds 5,000 more seats. So we'll have an attendance record.”
With the new renovations, the U’s stadium can now hold 51,000 people. The previous high was around 46,000. Kirk said the return of fans this fall will also increase ticket sales which makes up a major source of funding for their other sports programs.
“It's part of what made last year even more challenging, just not having that opportunity,” he said, “but most of all, it's the experience and the revenue factor from it is huge.”
Despite anticipated large crowds, there will be no mask or vaccine requirement to enter the stadium even though the university has mandated the vaccine for its students.
Kirk said parking, tickets and payments for concessions and other things will all be digital this year to help deal with COVID.
Bridget Gordon, owner of the Green Pig Pub in downtown Salt Lake City, said they have also felt the impact of no in-person sport events.
“It's been challenging but we've made it through,” Gordon said. “So we're really excited for this game tomorrow. Especially [since] last fall [we didn’t have] any sports and then, of course, the wintertime and being in an enclosed area, it did impact us financially.”
As a self-described “Utes Bar,” Gordon said she’s ready for college football to come back.
To prepare for the flock of fans she said they’ve been sanitizing like “crazy” and encouraging customers to mask up but it is not required.
Gordon said amid the excitement, it also comes as she faces a 20% staff shortage. She said she’s had to rearrange programs, like live entertainment, to accommodate for the shortage.
“That's been the biggest thing is that they want us to go to minimum wage of $15 an hour,” she said. “And, all of us as employers or most of us, I would say are hitting that, you know, we're paying more to get the people to come back, but they're just not coming back.”
But Gordon said she’s prepared to pay overtime as she and her staff handle the crowds.
The Utes are set to host Weber State University’s Wildcats in the first game of the season. Kickoff is Thursday evening at 5:30 p.m.