Struts in Jacksonville

Struts in Jacksonville. Server Hannah Bowman.    

Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star

Gamecocks fans flocked to Burgess-Snow Field to see the football playoffs last year, and businesses, university and city officials expect similar attendance Saturday.

Jacksonville State University’s three playoff games last December triggered a boost in ticket purchases and sales taxes, university and city officials say. With average attendance at games currently trailing only last year’s average ticket sales, business owners and officials are hoping the Gamecocks’ playoff Saturday will help spark another boost in revenue for the city and university.

“We’re expecting and hoping for a big turnout,” Ryan Fritts, owner of the restaurant Struts, said of the Gamecocks’ playoff game against Youngstown State on Saturday. “We’re going to have extra people on duty working.”

Fritts said the record attendance at JSU football home games last year and particularly the playoffs boosted sales. Fritts said he’s seen similar-sized crowds at Struts for home games this year.

“So far, so good and obviously, with more home games comes better business,” Fritz said. “Hopefully we’ll keep winning and have more games.”

Greg Seitz, athletic director at JSU, said Thursday that advance ticket sales for Saturday were down by 2,500 tickets compared to the first playoff game last year. Seitz said he suspects sales are down because fans for last year’s opposing team, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, lived relatively close to Jacksonville. Youngstown is in Ohio.

“Youngstown fans, I don’t think they’re as willing to travel,” Seitz said. “But I think our fans are continuing to buy.”

Seitz added that he expects the predictions for fair weather  Saturday to help boost walk-up sales.

The Gamecocks’ average attendance for the 2016 season has so far been lower than last year’s record-setting numbers. JSU Stadium set an all-time single-game high Dec. 19 last year with 23,692 on hand for the Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game against Sam Houston State.

Still, the Gamecocks have averaged 18,899 in the stands per home game so far this year. Only last year did JSU Stadium have higher attendance, averaging 20,598 fans per game.

The expanded JSU Stadium opened in 2010 with a 24,000-seat capacity.

Amado Ortiz, owner of Red Threads Apparel on the square in Jacksonville, said the home playoff games last year definitely helped his business.

“I think anytime you make the playoffs, it builds a lot of excitement,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz said he expected similar high sales Saturday, noting that the playoffs tend to attract more out-of-town alumni to town. Ortiz said he had special JSU playoff game shirts ready to sell to an influx of customers.

“Alumni, generally speaking, have a little more money than students,” Ortiz said. “Anytime you can get someone from Atlanta or Birmingham here, that’s good for us.”

Jarrod Simmons, Jacksonville city administrator, said the city gained an extra $45,000 in sales taxes in December last year because of the playoff games

“Last December was the best sales tax month the city had ever had,” Simmons said.

Simmons said that with a tight budget this year, every penny of sales tax helps.

“If JSU hosts three playoff games this year, we hope it meets or exceeds what we got last year,” Simmons said.

Jacksonville police Chief Tommy Thompson said his department will have a full shift of officers available Saturday to help deal with traffic and keep everyone at the game safe.

“Things can get hectic traffic-wise and we expect the restaurants to be busy,” Thompson said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.