JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Downtown businesses weren’t bustling with activity after Wednesday’s Gator Bowl game like many had planned.
“Today is hurting us badly, said Belinda Rivera, Manager of Benny's Steak and Seafood at The Jacksonville Landing. “Sadly the weather today kind of took all that away.”
Bars and restaurants were hit by a double whammy because the 2014 game fell on a Wednesday, that was also cold and rainy.
The Gator Bowl Association says more than 60,000 tickets were sold to Nebraska and Georgia fans, but some attendees told Action News that only the die-hard fans bothered to leave the hotel.
“We don't have a problem with it,” said Faye Banks-Anderson, a Georgia fan who has traveled to Jacksonville seven times for either the Gator Bowl or Florida-Georgia events in the past. “We travel very well. We eat really well. We drink well and we get back to Georgia. Weather doesn’t hold us back, but some people decided to stay at the hotels where it’s warm and dry.”
The GBA claims the game typically brings in 30,000 – 35,000 out of town guests, who stay two or three nights, and spend a total of $14 million to $16 million each year. But according to Visit Jacksonville, no local hotels sold out this year, and most were 70 percent full thanks mainly to Nebraska fans.
“We're a little wet and cold,” said Kyle Peitzmeier, a Nebraska fan who is one of the handful that continued to celebrate in the parking lot of Everbank Field post-game, “but we'd be cold at home too.”
Nebraska fans made up only a small portion of the overall ticket sales according to early ticket numbers, and many Georgia fans decided to returned home Wednesday afternoon following the loss.
While Banks-Anderson and Peitzmier planned to continue the fun in Jacksonville Wednesday night, it wasn’t enough for Rivera, who said the game-day after-party is what helps encourage locals to come back the rest of the year.
“Not just for the special events. We'd love to have them all year long.”