The Business Impact of Ending UAB Football

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Protesters crowd the entrance to the UAB administration building Tuesday waiting for official word that the university will cut its football program.

While many UAB students, staff and alumni are upset over the decision to end the university’s football program, the team’s influence isn’t confined to campus. The football program has an economic impact. Birmingham Business Journal managing editor Ty West tells WBHM’s Andrew Yeager about what cutting UAB football means for the wider community.

Who Gets Hurt?

West says the hospitality industry will see the most impact, especially on game day. Birmingham hotels and restaurants benefit from that significant influx of people.

“UAB football obviously isn’t Alabama or Auburn, it doesn’t draw the thousands of visitors from the road teams that come in,” says West. “But it does draw hundreds, if not a few thousand, depending on who the opponent is.”

UAB alone projects that the school spent $1.3 million in the city each game day.

The university will also lose some money on licensing fees from Blazer football merchandise. Last year, UAB pulled in between $3 and 4 million in fees.

What Worries Birmingham’s Business Leaders?

UAB is considered a cornerstone of Birmingham’s city center rebirth. With the football program off the table, business leaders are concerned. The business community has long supported growth for UAB’s team.

West recalls a few years back, when a proposal was floated for an on campus stadium.

“You saw the business community step up and agree to buy all the skyboxes in that stadium,” says West. “I think they realized that it was a big opportunity to have that on campus stadium. That maybe it could do for that area around the UAB campus what Regions Field and Rail Road Park have done for that area a few blocks to the north.”

Does This Sink The Dome?

Though the on campus stadium proposal died, local business leaders saw new hope in the pending proposal for a new “dome” multipurpose center at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.

“They viewed UAB football as an integral part of that,” West says. He thinks Birmingham business leaders believed “UAB football could have been a pretty big catalyst in that area.”

While West doesn’t think the loss of UAB football is enough to put out the dome facility and its supporters, it was a factor. According to West, when the Birmingham Business Journal talked with Mayor Bell’s office about the potential dome project, UAB football definitely came up.

“That’s a regular tenant, even though it is only a few times a year. It could have drawn several thousand Birmingham people down there and really help make that Uptown district (the new entertainment district at the BJCC) work,” says West. He also points out a stadium closer to campus could also have drawn more students to games.

West believes the business community views it as “a missed opportunity” for Uptown and the BJCC, dome or not.

Why Was The Business Community Silent?

As rumors spread that UAB might cut football over these last few weeks, people spoke out — voices from around UAB, some elected officials — but the business community seemed relatively muted. That doesn’t surprise West.

He explains that Birmingham’s business community has “a tendency sometimes not to be as candid as you’d like to be out in the open. People are often afraid to go out on a limb on contentious issues,” says West.

But West and Birmingham Business Journal did hear outcry from one type of business owner: owners of small business, “particularly the up-and-coming tech community,” says West.

They saw UAB dropping football as a bad decision for business. “They were very passionate about this issue, and I think that’s because they represent the new Birmingham, the young Birmingham that is really driving this downtown revitalization,” West says.