HENDERSONVILLE, Tennessee—Held in Atlanta since 1994, the Southeastern Conference college football championship is one of the city’s largest annual sporting events, bringing in thousands of visitors while generating millions of dollars in revenues for the market, and the downtown area in particular.
The average occupancy in the Atlanta downtown area for an SEC championship football weekend is 84.9 percent compared with 44.4 percent on a normal weekend, according to data from Smith Travel Research. That adds up to a little more than 14,500 more rooms sold on the game weekend compared to a normal weekend.
This year’s championship game between the University of Florida and Alabama University on 5 December drew the highest average occupancy since 2003 at 88.2 percent. The attraction of the then No.1 and No.2 ranked teams in the country playing for the conference championship likely contributed to the boost in roomnights sold.
The lowest occupancy for an SEC championship weekend occurred in 2003 and 2005 when the Georgia Bulldogs were competing for the conference title. With many Georgia fans living in and around the Atlanta area, hoteliers would normally anticipate more day trips and fewer room sales.
Over the past seven years, the SEC championship weekend generated, on average, around US$2.3 million more in incremental room revenue than a normal weekend in December. When evaluating SEC championship weekends, the game has generated roughly US$16 million in incremental hotel room revenue to the Atlanta downtown tract. Total room revenue for the SEC championship weekend in 2009 was US$4.7 million, with an estimated US$3.2 million of this attributable directly to the event.
The Atlanta downtown tract experienced a relatively large room supply change in 2008, up 4.8 percent with rooms sold up 2.1 percent. This positive demand percent change is amazing considering the economy took a dive starting in October 2008. Hotels took advantage of the 2008 weekend by raising their rates around 15 percent more than the 2007 levels.
ADR averages about US$40 more a night on SEC championship weekends. The ADR for 2009 was down only 1.4 percent when compared to 2008 when it was at its highest of US$166.45. Back in 2003, the cost for a night in downtown Atlanta during the SEC championship weekend was US$110.52—a bargain by today’s standards!
The SEC championship game has had a very positive impact on Atlanta, especially in 2009 as hotels in the market continue to suffer from the economic environment. The downturn has impacted sports tourism less than many other segments, as major athletic competitions continue to be profitable ventures. As performance results from 2009 show, fans are still willing to follow their favorite teams, no matter the economic situation. With its accessibility and infrastructure, Atlanta will continue to be one of the premier sports destinations in the nation.