July 25, 2014 9:59:16 AM
Starkville officials predict a sharp uptick in hotel and restaurant business this December when Mississippi State University hosts the 2014 Mississippi High School Activities Association's state football championship games.
MHSAA announced Monday it will rotate six divisional state championships between MSU and Ole Miss through 2017, contingent on the year's Egg Bowl host -- the away team will host the high school championships. Since MSU travels to Oxford this year, a newly renovated Davis Wade Stadium will host 12 teams battling for their respective division's state title.
Hailed by the state's high school athletics association as a move to plug in emerging athletes into a college setting, local tourism officials forecast the games as huge draws that will help bring in new streams of sales and food and beverage tax receipts for the city and the Golden Triangle.
Scott Kelly, MHSAA's director of development and communications, said the games could result in about 40,000 combined tickets sold, but the actual visitor count is expected to be higher because of the number of players, coaches, cheerleaders, band members, referees, scouts, administrators and other school-connected fans.
Spillover could easily send visitors to Lowndes and Clay counties' hotels and restaurants.
"You always have other factors involved, like weather and specific teams' travel potential, but we've seen in Jackson (direct economic impact) north of $1 million over the years," Kelly said.
"Who puts on better events than our colleges and college towns? They're the perfect organizations to market to and bring in students, parents and relatives -- people that can get excited about where they're playing."
Greater Starkville Development Partnership officials are in the process of strategic planning associated with the December influx of football fans. Attempts to lure visitors to Starkville's stores, hotels and restaurants will dovetail into the same efforts for the home college football season. Jennifer Prather, the Partnership's special events manager, said the organization could begin targeting specific communities in Mississippi once it is known which teams will compete for state championships.
"Comparatively, this will be like when MSU's baseball team hosted the regional the other year," she said of how the Partnership will market to an influx of sports fans.
"We, as an organization, will sit down with event organizers, our local businesses and other players to see how we can sell Starkville to visitors. We have to focus on our locals that help us make who we are as a community and entice people to get around town and visit our stores and restaurants," Prather added.
Specifically, the Partnership will likely encourage shops that historically hold earlier operating hours to open their doors later into the night, she said. Restaurants that offer extended hours and specials to traveling fans, Prather said, could see a significant payoff after reaching out to travelers.
"Visibility is going to be key for our organizations and our city's businesses. We have to find ways to rally the business community in time for this event," she said. "We always have a special projects budget for instances like this, so look for us to get creative when the time comes."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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