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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — College football is back and campuses across Indiana have been missing the dollars fans spend at home games.

The Indiana University Hoosiers are ready for their first full capacity showing since 2019 with a nearly sold-out crowd ready to fill Memorial Stadium. 

IU football is set to kick off its most highly anticipated home stand in recent memory. A near sold-out crowd of 50,000 plus will cheer as the Hoosiers host the Idaho Vandals. The following weeks contest has already sold out – that hasn’t happened at IU for at least four years.

Local Bloomington businesses are ready for the fans too, who are eager to cheer for a winning team and ready to spend their dollars to help keep the doors open. 

“Just coming in to work today I feel the energy buzz,” Nick’s English Hut Owner Susan Bright said. “People walking around town, the weather’s gorgeous, I think people have come in town before Friday, they started their long weekend just to kick off the first game.”

Without any fans to watch the games last year, local businesses in college towns took a financial hit – so did the schools themselves who are reporting string numbers after week one of the college football season. 

“It certainly makes us breathe a whole lot easier,” Purdue University Athletic Director Mike Bobinski said. “We had a budget number going into the, we have one for every game, we had one going into the Oregon State game and we actually exceeded that number so, it puts us off to a really positive start for the year.”

Purdue hosted their first home game since 2019 last week when the Boilermakers beat Oregon State University. Bobinski says fans forked over plenty of money throughout the weekend. 

“When you look at a sorta, year over year comparison, last year with no ticket sales… I mean we’re obviously beating the daylights outta that situation already,” Bobinski said. “Everywhere I went around town, on campus, all the people could say was, “I can’t wait for Saturday. Can’t wait for Saturday night.” And what in a little bit of mist and rain we had that day… didn’t deter, I don’t think, a single person.”

Patrick Tamm, President & CEO of the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association says the economic impact fans have on college towns is monumental.

“You’re talking an unbelievable; multiple millions of dollars. I’m not talking five, I’m not talking 20, I’m talking north of 40 for that type of economic impact for a home football game,” Tamm said, “Think about those dynamics… they don’t typically show up right before kickoff either. So, it’s a weekend. People love their college sports and spending money while they’re in town.”

Nick’s English Hut felt the emptiness of the 2019 season firsthand. It’s still recovering today, fighting COVID-related staffing shortages.

“We might be able to put out 350 seats at the most because we don’t have staff to work… and customers are coming in hungry and if we don’t have kitchen people cooking, they’re gonna be grumpy pretty quick,” Bright said. “Everybody’s in the same boat. So, it’s not just our restaurant that we can’t open to the full capacity because of staffing… we’ll just see what happens and try to make every customer happy this weekend and get them in and out.”

But even without a full staff on deck, experts say a fully packed stadium will be good for business. 

“I would suspect, that given what we’ve been through the last year and a half, that that level, even that smaller level of enjoyment from a restaurant standpoint is something that will both sustain them and grow over time,” Indiana Business Research Co-Director Timothy Slaper said. “Even though the economic benefit, that little “hit” that you would get, with a game, is not gonna be as great because of the COVID related issues lingering… I think those invisible kind of ripple effects on the economy are still going to be present.”

If you’re coming in town for the game, Nick’s hopes you’ll eat, drink and be merry regardless of final score – because IU football is back in town. 

“IU was just becoming known for football again. We hadn’t done that in probably 35, 40 years so everybody’s ready for a good team,” Bright said. “We were all going through the withdrawals last year… of football, of everything. So, I think it’s already been forgotten because you have this new energy that’s here. It’s life. It’s happiness. It’s real excitement in Bloomington again.”