The Gameday Series: ESPN Returns to UF

Away From the Field, Gainesville Grows

November 28, 2012

The Florida Gators football team brings in a huge amount of money for the Athletic Association, but how does it affect the city they play in, Gainesville, Florida?

The results are kind of obvious, actually. Gainesville is a small town with a big university. (Almost) everyone who lives here is concerned with how the Gators do, and when they're doing well, business booms. I walked along University Avenue, across from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and asked managers and employees about the effect UF has on their business. An employee at the burger joint Relish, Michael Henagan, was kind enough to answer a few questions. He told me that while Relish has big crowds on gamedays, their peak hours are actually early in the morning, from 12:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.

"[I would rather work] Gameday definitely. There are so many people that you interact with and have conversations with."
— Michael Henagan, Relish employee.

Bars and clubs are closing about then, so those customers are heading in for a quick midnight snack. On gamedays, the customers are usually familes, while the night crowds are (usually intoxicated) twenty-somethings.

I tried talking to business managers, but aside from generic answers that dealt with sales spikes on Saturdays, I was told that actual numbers were either confidential or not known. A manager at Gator Plus, Christina Rodenwoldt, did mention that it the South Carolina game brought more than a usual spike because Steve Spurrier was back in town, the Gators were doing much better than anticipated and because the game was such a blowout in favor of the Gators.

Michael Riling, a blood courier at Shands, said that although he isn't much of a sports fan, he can usually tell how games go his next day of work from people talking in break rooms. He doesn't support the Gators and will sometimes tease fans if the team does poorly, but he says it's in a friendly manner. He hasn't had many opportunities to have fun this year, though.

On the other side of the specturm, there is Dave Kendall, a 68-year-old Bull Gator who has been a booster since he graduated. He said that he likes the Gators being featured on Gameday twice this season, because it means UF is on TV before the games are on TV. He said with complete confidence that there is "an absolute correlation" between the Gators doing well and the mood of the city: "The economy prospers, people want to come and see them play, the students get excited, the faculty even gets excited more when they're playing well."

In a stroke of luck, I was also able to talk to Alyson Sanderford, the Assistant Director of Events for the University of Florida Alumni Association, which hosts a tailgate at Emerson Alumni Hall.