Tuscaloosa retailers hope to score with return of Tide football fans

Emily Enfinger
The Tuscaloosa News

During the University of Alabama's run to the 2020 national championship, the Crimson Tide football team played five home games in front of crowds of around 20,000, less than a quarter of Bryant-Denny Stadium's capacity, because of COVID-19 restrictions.

On Saturday, the stadium's capacity has been increased to 50,000 for UA's spring football game. Some of the COVID-19 rules are being loosened as the number of coronavirus cases continues to dwindle.

Tracey Snider, manager of Alabama Express on University Boulevard, which sells a variety of UA souvenirs and clothing, said it has been "really nice" having spring sports back after the tough times brought on by COVID-19.

"We have seen a lot of our customers, and we have had a good turnout with customers with the baseball, softball and you know those things being back in swing," Snider said. She hopes that the A-Day game will bring in a similar turnout, despite the spring football game being limited at 50% of the stadium's capacity. 

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"We'll take every bit of that we can with, you know, the alternative being last year of not having any," Snider said, referring to the cancellation of sporting events in the spring of 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

This past football season when the seating capacity was set at 20%, Snider said, the fewer fans coming to Tuscaloosa for the games was directly reflected in the store's sales. She estimated that sales were about 20% of what they would have been on a normal game day.

"So by the time you've had five home games, that equaled up to be probably what one of our home games would have been during a regular football season. We did take a hit," she said.

Seven UA home games are planned for the fall with the potential for stands to be packed with 100,000-plus fans who will spend money on food and drinks, gasoline, hotel rooms and maybe a national championship T-shirt or two. 

For the 2018-19 academic year, the average economic impact per home UA football game was around $19.5 million for the Tuscaloosa metro area for a season total of $137.2 million, according to a report released in December 2020 by UA's Culverhouse College of Business. 

Greg Byrne, UA's director of athletics, has said he anticipates full capacity for Alabama's home games this fall. For retail businesses like Alabama Express and The Shirt Shop, preparation for the fall is vital. Store inventory for the fall football season is generally purchased at the beginning of the year, in January and February. 

Businessman Charles Spurlin, who owns The Shirt Shop on Greensboro Avenue, said that this fall should be busy with the anticipated return of a full capacity of fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Staff file photo]

Charles Spurlin, owner of the Shirt Shop on Greensboro Avenue, said his business has a "big fall plan" for when football season rolls around because of the downsized season last year.

The Shirt Shop purchased "a lot of product," Spurlin said, because they believe the coming season is going to be "better than ever."

"We think we’re going to have a big fall," he said.

Snider said Alabama Express is finishing up on its orders. The business had waited on some orders to see what the fall season capacity would be, she said, but it is working to get items back in stock and new, fresh items.

"We anticipate everybody will be ready to get back to normal with football season in the fall," she said.

The return of spring sports and the A-Day game gives Snider hope, she said, because it is "a little bit of normalcy coming back."

"It's not completely open and not everybody is, you know, taking part in spring sports, or some people are still just kind of a little bit hesitant about it," she said.

"But as far as the university having events like having the orientations, having the spring sports happen, the campus tours and things like that, just from the amount of people that we've seen coming in the last couple of weeks, I really feel like people are kind of, you know, trying to open up for a little bit more normalcy."

Editor Ken Roberts contributed to this report.

Emily Enfinger is a reporter for The Tuscaloosa News. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyEnfinger.

Have a news tip? Email Emily at eenfinger@gannett.com.