By Alyssa Schnugg
Ole Miss football doesn’t just provide a fun Saturday a few days a year for its fans. Its effect on Oxford’s economy can mean the difference between success and failure for many local businesses. It literally puts the food on the table of many of the city’s citizens.
While fans enjoy watching the Ole Miss Rebels win, how well the team does each season can impact the amount of taxes the city collects. That money goes toward a variety of annual projects, and it also boosts the real estate market throughout the year.
The city collects a 2-percent food and beverage tax that is added onto the bills of all food and drinks purchased at local restaurants, as well as a 2-percent motel/hotel tax each time someone stays at an Oxford hotel or motel.
These funds are distributed at the end of the fiscal year and are used to fund Visit Oxford, which helps promote tourism in Oxford, the Oxford Conference Center, beautification projects around the city, ADA projects and equipment to help keep the downtown area pristine.
“Football has an enormous impact on tourism,” said Kinney Ferris, director of Visit Oxford.
During the 2015 football season, both taxes were seeing percent increases in the double digits; however, after the NCAA infractions posed on Ole Miss in 2017, those increases fell to mostly 1 to 5 percent during September, October and November in the 2017 – 2018 seasons. Percentages raised slightly more – 12 and 9 percent – during this year’s season during September and November, respectfully, and remaining the same as last year in October.
However, with the recent changes to the University of Mississippi’s leadership this year with new Chancellor, Glenn Boyce; new Athletic Director Keith Carter; and new Head Coach Lane Kiffin causing much excitement and hype around Ole Miss athletics, Ferris said she’s optimistic for the 2020 football season and its impact on the economy.
“We are thrilled for the excitement of the Ole Miss fan base and the national coverage of Ole Miss and Oxford,” Ferris said. “Of course it’s a wait-a-little-bit-and-see for impact, but more ticket sales to sporting events than prior years will obviously mean more people in town and more dollars spent in Oxford – a win-win for the city and university.”
When the University announced that Kiffin would be the new head coach on Dec. 7, Ole Miss Tickets immediately allowed new customers to place a $50 deposit on 2020 season tickets which will be available to purchase in early January, according to the website. Individual game tickets go on sale Aug. 1.
Katie Wisdom, director of ticket operations, said she couldn’t release actual numbers of those who have put down deposits for season tickets, but that the response has been “really good.”
“Our fans are very excited about the (2020) season,” she said.
Allowing deposits on season tickets is not something offered every year. Wisdom said she’s been with Ole Miss Tickets for three years and this is the first time the university has offered the early deposits.
“It’s done when there is the anticipation of a higher volume of sales and interest before the tickets are ready to go one sale,” Wisdom said.
Tim Phillips with CRYE LEIKE Oxford Real Estate said the lack of excitement over Ole Miss football has negatively affected real estate sales for the last several years; however, he says things are looking up.
“In just a matter of a week, the entire Oxford community and Ole Miss family had Christmas come early with the announcement of Lane Kiffin as head coach,” Phillips said. “Our community and Ole Miss over the last five to six years has received so much negative publicity that the synergy in Oxford with real estate was non-existent. With enrollment down almost 1,800 beds over the last two years, there hasn’t been a lot to get excited about. We all realize that Ole Miss football directly affects our local economy from retail, restaurants and definitely real estate.”
The secondary condo market suffered the most, according to Phillips, but he says an increase in ticket sales with people filling the stadium should turn things around.
“We all remember the ‘Eli Effect’ in 2000 on real estate in Oxford and hopefully we will see a pick up with the momentum we are seeing now,” he said. “Everyone wants to be a part of the success and hopefully this is where we are headed with the hire of Chancellor Glenn Boyce, Athletic Director Keith Carter and Coach Lane Kiffin.
“It is time for the ‘Flagship University’ of our state to take the lead again.”