Financial touchdown Midlands economy gets lift as USC football kicks off

University of South Carolina fan Wanda Hein shops for school gear at Todd & Moore in downtown Columbia. Hein, who graduated from USC, said she has been a Gamecock fan her entire life. (C. Aluka Berry/The State)

COLUMBIA — When fans swarmed into Columbia starting Thursday night, they came for one thing: the Gamecocks’ football home opener today against East Carolina.

By the time they leave Sunday, they will have spent more than $6 million on everything from hotel rooms to hoodies with the team logo – giving local businesses a welcome boost.

And just as hope rises among fans for potentially the winningest football team in school history this year, merchants hope spending will rise with every win.

“Winning matters,” said Tom H. Regan, a sports and entertainment management professor at the University of South Carolina, who conducted an economic impact study for the university’s Athletics Department. Fans make a $60 million economic impact on the Midlands every football season, the study said.

“Winning has the aspect of additional spending after the game,” Regan said.

Fans, with their moods buoyed by success on the field, often spend more at restaurants, bars and stores in Columbia’s Five Points and Vista areas following a game, Regan said, or they might book another night at their hotel or a return trip for another game.

“When Carolina is winning, everybody feels good. And when you feel good, you go out and spend money,” said Chuck Todd, president of Todd & Moore, a sports apparel and equipment store on Huger Street that has been in Columbia for nearly 70 years.

Spending already had started to pick up before USC’s contest with Vanderbilt last week, he said. He expects it to escalate more as the home opener approaches.

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“The level of optimism is probably as high as it’s ever been,” Todd said.

And even though baseball has a longer winning record and two national championships under its belt, it’s football that brings in the bucks.

“Football is the golden goose. Football is the one that drives all the revenue for the other sports to have an opportunity to be successful,” Regan said.