College football a hit outside the stadium

Richard Ryman
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ASHWAUBENON - Wisconsin and LSU fans brought a lot of red and purple to town Labor Day weekend, but for metro area businesses, the best color was green.

"I think business was really, really good. A Packers weekend is dwarfed by this," said Jim Kratowicz, chief operating officer at Titletown Brewery in Green Bay.

Hospitality businesses were among those most impacted by the game, which saw LSU fans arriving in large numbers as early as Wednesday, with Wisconsin fans following Friday and Saturday.

"It was a long weekend, but it was good. Well worth it," said Jess Miller, an owner of The Bar on Holmgren Way in Ashwaubenon, Hagemeister Park in Green Bay and Graystone Ale House in Ledgeview. "We're probably 30 percent better than a Packers game."

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Amanda Watson, general manager of Stadium View Bar and Grille in Ashwaubenon thought business was 50 percent higher than on a normal Packers game day.

Stadium View and The Bar set up outdoor tents and TVs for fans who did not have tickets to the game. Watson said their 1,000-person banquet hall was full, as were the outdoor tents.

"Certainly, being around the stadium district, it was like a circus," said Brad Toll, president and CEO of the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. "There were people everywhere."

Tim Kuehn, owner of Margarita's Famous Mexican Food & Cantina in Ashwaubenon, said business was better than it is for a Packers game because it went on longer, with LSU fans arriving midweek.

"It was a good experience. The LSU fans were very congenial and nice people, and they came prepared to spend money," he said.

Businesses that bulked up on employees and supplies weren't disappointed.

"It was definitely what we expected," Watson said. "We had everybody on deck and then some. We had a lot of employees I had never met before."

Toll said hotels were full and those with cancellations because of the flooding in Louisiana soon filled the rooms.

"It was on par with a very good Packers game, with the Cowboys coming to town, the Bears coming to town," said Dennis Garrity, president of Event USA tour package company in Ashwaubenon. The company provided a wide range of services to 3,000 fans, including the LSU Alumni Association.

"We took over quite a few hotels in the area, completely bought them out," Garrity said. "We took over parts of others."

Business owners liked both the demeanor and demographic of the LSU fans, who were mature and had money to spend. Wisconsin fans did not stay in town as long, but were, after all, more numerous. And as well-behaved.

"We really couldn't have asked for a better situation," Watson said. "We had a couple little minor things, but it wasn't the norm, that's for sure."

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Miller said you could see the flow of fans at Hagemeister Park. At lunch Friday, his patio was bathed in purple and yellow, but at supper, it was all red. Watson noticed the same transformation between her Friday (purple and gold) and Saturday (red) crowds.

It is difficult to verify if the economic impact was greater than a Packers home game, which is variously estimated at between $13.5 and $15 million, but Toll said "all the things you hear, it was huge. (The fans) certainly invested in our community."

Contact and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG, onInstagram at rrymanpgor on Facebook at Richard Ryman-Press-Gazette. Or call him at (920) 431-8342.

Wisconsin Badgers red and LSU Tigers purple fill Lambeau Field on Sept. 3.
Wisconsin Badgers fans watch the game against LSU on a big screen outside Lambeau Field on Sept. 3.
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