Spartan Football: Game Day Drives Jobs and Tourism

In Lansing, nothing says goodbye to summer quite like Spartan football.

Seven home games attract more than one million fans to MSU’s East Lansing campus; where a win reverberates throughout the community. A loss? Well, that’s football; wait until next week.

But win or lose, the Spartan’s economic engine powers millions of dollars into regional economic activity, supported on game day by thousands of workers, both on campus and off.

From ticket takers, to cleanup crews, cooks and concessionaires, game days between August and November require an army of workers.

“There is simply no comparison between home game and away game weekends,” said MSU’s Senior Associate Athletic Director Greg Ianni. “We have anywhere from 120,000 and 140,000 people on campus on game day. Maybe 73,000 are going to the game. The remainder are here to enjoy the campus and festivities leading up to the game.”

While much of the activity revolves around Spartan Stadium, the swell of visitors spill into buildings across campus, all drawn toward the excitement and pageantry of Big Ten football. It involves all departments; including countless alumni and donor functions, as well as admissions office events to lure new students.

“From an athletic standpoint, we employ more than 1,200 people on game day,” Ianni said.

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Ianni’s department budgets $200,000 for wages, which covers only a fraction of the total cost considering some workers are salaried and department work schedules are adjusted to cover game day. Pay scales vary widely with full-time employees working under union contracts. Police support, drawn from departments throughout the area, have different pay scales – again, based on their contracts. With the grounds being overrun by fans, it’s no surprise that 50 officers from different departments attended this year’s first matchup.

Ianni said that while much of what happens in East Lansing on game day is similar in intensity and activity to football Saturdays at other Big Ten universities, the MSU campus poses unique challenges because its stadium is located in the middle of the campus.

“At some schools, like [the University of] Michigan, the stadium is on the edge of campus. Here, football impacts the entire campus,” he said.

The athletic department’s 1,200 game day jobs typically handle tasks directly associated with the game like ticket sales, ushers, parking lot attendants and security. The department is also responsible for policing; which extends to the edge of the campus, for cleanup crews and custodial services.

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The workforce is a mix of both students and more seasoned workers. Inside the stadium, some of the game day staff have been working football Saturdays for generations. “They are loyal and passionate about what they do and the fans recognize it,” Ianni said. “There are folks from other departments who will jump in on a Saturday for some extra pay.”

All of the expense is defrayed by the football program. According to pennlive.com, during the 2014-15 fiscal year, MSU football produced $59.2 million in revenue from ticket sales, television revenues and assorted Big Ten income streams (University of Michigan led the conference in revenue at $88.3 million). MSU’s football revenue accounted for 55 percent of the athletic department’s $108.7 million 2015 income.

Athletic department jobs account for only half of game day employment. MSU’s hospitality operation shifts into overdrive during the football season; servicing the stadium, luxury suites, the university’s hotel and conference center and other assorted pre- and post-game events.

Hospitality oversees the crisply attired servers tending sumptuous buffets in the stadium tower, the volunteer organizations manning concession stands and private contractors selling everything from sub sandwiches to cotton candy. Food service staff cooks the 20,000 hot dogs and prepares the 75,000 drinks consumed on campus.

“We could have as many as 1,200 people supporting our food operations,” said Vennie Gore, MSU’s vice president for auxiliary enterprises. “We’re probably in the ballpark of between $300,000 and $400,000 in terms of labor costs.”

What workers earn from game day jobs varies on their individual skill set, explained Gore.

“Food service dining work starts at $9.50 an hour and can go up to $13 an hour. Cooks start at $12 or $13 an hour and their pay can go up to $17 an hour,” Gore said.

Most football related services are channeled through MSU’s Spartan Hospitality Group; which includes the Breslin Student Event Center, Spartan Signature Catering, the Kellogg Center and various other conference sites.

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The campus jobs associated with Spartan football are a small slice of the overall economic jolts provided to the Lansing region each year.

Separate studies commissioned for Michigan’s University Research Corridor and the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, and prepared by the Anderson Economic Group of East Lansing, outline the tens of millions of dollars in economic activity directly attributable to Big Ten football.

A study of the 2013 University of Michigan football season pegged the total economic impact at $81.8 million. An early study by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), analyzing the 2007 season of both Michigan and Michigan State, found that the programs energized the state economy by $177 million.

The impact studies accounted for spending based on categories such as food and drink, shopping, auto (gasoline, parking and other related expenses) and lodging (average price per-night, room occupancy, average expense).

Clearly, and logically, the greatest economic jolt comes from out-of-state attendees. In the 2007 study, 12 percent of those attending MSU games were out-of-state residents. However, when the schools play one another, out-of-state attendance wanes while in-state attendance soars.

What makes out-of-state fans particularly valuable is their “new dollar spending.” The study found that 95 percent of their food, travel, lodging and other expenditures happened only because of Big Ten football.

As for spending by in-state fans, 75 percent of purchases would have been done in the state regardless of football. For students, it’s 80 percent.

The indirect impact of football spending as it ripples through the economy, just about doubles its value. The AEG studies applied a 99.94 percent multiplier in the 2007 study, while their most recent analysis of Michigan football’s economic benefit within the Ann Arbor market raised the multipliers closer to 150 percent.

A similar bump from MSU spending would apply to the Lansing region.

“Those are big fall weekends for our industry,” said Jack Schripsema, president and chief executive officer of the Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The effect is particularly strong for greater Lansing’s lodging industry. There are 4,400 rooms in the region that stretch from Williamston to Grand Ledge and from St. Johns to Mason.

“We really feel it on football game days and have trouble placing groups. People call for those weekends and say they’d like to stay in East Lansing. You can’t get a room when a team comes in and takes up a whole property,” Schripsema said.

And it’s not just the team. Sometimes visiting schools send their bands, cheerleaders and dance teams. “Add in the fans and that’s all fresh dollars,” Scripsema said.

He added, however, that not all Spartan games are equal and that businesses do really well with games against rival teams like Michigan or Ohio State.

On a typical fall weekend without football, area hotels and motels are 50 to 60 percent booked. On a strong football weekend; 90 to 95 percent. The games also affect room rates. For the 12 months ending in June 2016 the average room in the region cost slightly more than $100 per night. Whereas, on a football weekend the rates increase to the $110 to $115 range.

“We’re very fortunate to have one of the Big Ten universities,” said Scripsema.

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Mickey Hirten

Mickey Hirten

Mickey Hirten is an award winning writer and editor. He has been executive editor of the Lansing State Journal, the Burlington Free Press in Vermont, and was the financial editor and a columnist for the Baltimore Evening Sun. He is the current president of the Michigan Press Association. His wife, Maureen Hirten, is director of the Capital Area District Library.

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