Businesses prepare to take hit as uncertain Badger football season approaches

MADISON, Wis. – While much is still up in the air when it comes to the upcoming Badger football season including how many fans will be allowed at games, there’s no question this year will be different.

The UW-Madison Athletics Department is preparing for a potential season with fewer fans, announcing that it won’t be able to provide tickets for season ticket holders.

Usually each home football game provides about $16 million in total economic impact to the state’s economy, according to a report from last year.

The game days make up a large portion of yearly earnings for bars in the Regent St. area. For Buckingham’s, co-owner Scott Nerat said sales those days make up nearly a third of annual earnings.

“For us, it’s a huge deal,” Nerat said. “Those are our biggest days of the year.”

He said it’s meeting people – even working on those busy 17-hour home game days – that makes it all worth it.

“It’s fun to meet people those days, talk to people. They’re just great days,” Nerat said.  “We’re not meeting so many people lately.”

Lately, things look different too – barriers between bartenders and customers and emptier seats.

“I mean, it’s a tough year for everybody,” Nerat said.

He doesn’t expect the year to end with a college football season, despite a newly released Badgers schedule.

“It’s just kind of wait and see,” Nerat said. “We have to be ready for everything.”

That includes preparing to open their parking lot as a beer garden as usual, without knowing what restrictions there might be yet, and anticipating to work with a limited capacity inside.

While the number of fans that may be allowed inside Camp Randall is unclear, UW-Athletics is planning for less than usual. Athletic Director Barry Alvarez wrote in a letter Wednesday, “I have been paying close attention to the case numbers in our community and we are preparing for the reality that it will not be appropriate for thousands of fans to gather in Camp Randall on Saturdays this fall.”

That has implications for nearby businesses including restaurants and hotels that welcome the thousands of fans.

Destination Madison, an organization that works to increase tourism, acknowledges the role UW sports programs play in the city.

“We love to welcome the thousands of fans who come to games, experience our community and provide support for our businesses,” said Deb Archer, President & CEO, Destination Madison. “We know this fall will be different without those fans, but understand UW is addressing the need to prioritize public health. We support the decision and plan on welcoming people to home games once again next year.”

“I think I actually hope the season gets pushed back to the spring,” Nerat said. “It’s the best chance where there could possibly be a vaccine and treatments.”

Whatever the football season looks like, Nerat says they’ll meet the challenge.

“We just gotta deal with what we got and do the best we can,” he said.

The Wisconsin Badgers are scheduled to begin their season Sept. 4 against Indiana at Camp Randall Stadium.