Let’s start by trying to stop some of the hate mail before I get it: I love college football. I’m not a UT football fan, but this identical article could likely be written about any number of southern cities of similar size with a successful football program. Some of the details would probably be different for larger or smaller cities, but the theme would probably be similar. Also, I’m not talking about the University of Tennessee and its impact. In many respects, particularly culturally, the university is critical to Knoxville. No, this is about football, which, while it generates massive amounts of money, has some hidden costs to the community.
A couple of things made me start thinking in this direction. First, the Urban Land Institute made reference to the roads surrounding downtown as having been built “for six Saturdays a year (ed: they meant seven).” I’d never considered that the highways and glut of concrete downtown had any possible direct relationship to UT football, but the point is a good one: We really only need the number of massive roads we’ve built on football days.
Then last weekend I ran around from one event to another, all in the downtown area, of course. While I’m delighted so much is going on, I also realized how much I’m missing. Of course, it’s concentrated that way because it’s all planned on away dates or open dates for the football team. And we all have weddings, parties and other private events that are planned for the same weekends, for the same reason. Which all means I – and you – could attend more of these events if they were spread out a bit.
My calendar indicated thirty-seven choices for what to do from Friday through Sunday and I inadvertently left off at least five others that I know about. Fifteen of the events or shows fell on Saturday – and remember, that’s just in the little area I pay attention to. I’ve already written about the Zombie Walk and the Amendment One rally from Saturday, as well as the Metro Pulse rally from Sunday. I didn’t make it to perhaps the largest of them all: the Brewer’s Jam.
The photographs accompanying this article are from some of the other events. The Race for the Cure, which is one of the largest crowds for a race each year, happened on Saturday morning. Thousands lined up in their pink and their tutus to support finding a cure for the disease. It’s always an uplifting event with many people running who have survived cancer, had a loved one survive cancer or people who have lost family members to cancer and, so, they run in their honor.
I also shopped a little at the Market Square Farmers’ Market that morning, which is where I encountered the buskers pictured. The guy playing the saw is very good and the group was good, but their spontaneous dance partner stole the show. Late in the day I stopped into Fourth and Gill’s Artoberfest and saw friends and families having a good time.
Sunday afternoon after the Metro Pulse rally I stopped by the Digital Bookmobile event at the Lawson McGhee Library. The idea was to help those of us who tend to fall behind a bit on our technology understand how to access and enjoy digital books from the public library. The Lonetones added a musical touch to the event.
So, events are crammed together because people are trying to avoid home games. It had never occurred to me until I was talking to a friend that availability of police support for events is extremely limited when they are all working the game. It makes me wonder how well covered various parts of the city are during the games. But what other impacts do games have?
First of all, since this blog is centered on daily life in downtown, let’s start with them impact on downtown residents. It’s important to know that if you decide to move into the city, your life and daily routine will be impacted seriously by game day. Everyone downtown, no matter their personal feelings about UT football, has to know the schedule to plan around the home games. What difference does it make?
For starters, it isn’t wise to move your car because it might be difficult to find a space if you come back after the UT football influx. Traffic also promises to be much worse than usual coming and going and many of the drivers aren’t used to driving in the city and sharing the road with pedestrians and cyclists. It can get hairy to drive about.
There are also the “fan” stories. The fans who get drunk and throw up on the sidewalk by your house. The fans who get into fights after drinking too much at the game. The fans who celebrate just a bit too loudly a bit too far into the night as they try to remember where they parked the car.
I’m not so sure it helps retail very much as people aren’t inclined to buy things on their way to, or even from, a game. The Market Square Farmer’s Market is typically packed with people on game days, but they aren’t generally buying much – you don’t buy a bag of corn to take to the stadium – and some of the farmers don’t come downtown on game days because of the hassle of getting in and out.
Which is not to say that the football games don’t have some positive impact on downtown. It certainly helps the restaurants, depending on the timing of the game. I also really enjoy the influx of visitors from the various places, especially when the visiting team is from a far-off place like Oregon and we have large numbers of people being introduced to the city at once. I enjoy the conversations that ensure and appreciate them wearing their colors so I can pick them out. And, of course, like any where else in town, a person can seriously have the place to themselves starting at kickoff.
So, there is some cost added in to the excitement and economic benefit and there is a significant impact on downtown, some of it fun, some not so fun. It is part of the package of living downtown. As for the impact on events and event planning, I do hate that it forces so many of them to compete against each other on the same weekends that they all suffer lower attendance and participation than otherwise might have been the case.