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Arch Rivalry football game a boon for St. Louis

Missouri-Illinois matchup expected to bring influx of fans' business to downtown.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 | 11:12 p.m. CDT; updated 9:09 a.m. CDT, Thursday, August 28, 2008

A year ago, uncertainty surrounded this game.
Illinois had completed a 2-10 season, the fifth consecutive time it had not played in a bowl game. Missouri had a decent 2006 campaign, but the Tigers had crashed down the stretch with losses in five of their last seven games. As a result, the organizers of the restored Arch Rivalry had to promote the game without knowing if teams would sell all of their tickets.
Twelve months later, everything is different.
The city of St. Louis is now preparing to play host to one of only two games this weekend that will feature two ranked teams (Clemson against Alabama is the other), and interest in the game is at an all-time high, with tickets selling out the day they went on sale in July. The game will also be nationally televised by ESPN, the fourth time in this decade that the teams have met in St. Louis on national television.
The increased demand to attend the game is something St. Louis Sports Commission president Frank Viverito is happy to see.
“We are so delighted that these changes have occurred,” Viverito said. “Last year, quite a bit of time was spent on the sales, marketing and advertising portion of the event with regard to tickets. This year, we’ve been able to focus more on telling the story of the game and spending a lot of our time planning the activities around the game, building up the bowl-like atmosphere of the event and just making sure that it’s a very special day for the schools and for St. Louis.”
With the game being played on Labor Day weekend, Viverito is hoping fans will spend the full weekend in St. Louis.
“I think people are staying closer to home on Labor Day,” he said. “With that game on Labor Day weekend, I think that businesses in the downtown St. Louis area (will) do very, very well with the game.
“Hotel stays will probably increase because of the late time of the game. I’ve been suggesting to anyone and everyone that it would be a great idea to get downtown on Saturday afternoon and enjoy the game and plan to stay in a hotel, make a weekend of it. People will be partying all day, so it’s a responsible and enjoyable thing to do.”
One big change from last year for the city is that the football game will be the only sporting event taking place on Saturday. Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals played a night game on the same day as the Missouri-Illinois game, allowing fans to make the walk from the dome to Busch Stadium once the football game ended.
“The Cardinals are out of town this year on game day,” Viverito said. “But the game is in the evening, so I expect that all our fans will come downtown earlier in the day and they will take advantage of downtown St. Louis and the way that it’s grown and changed. I think the event works well for both the fans and the downtown businesses.”
Financially, it also works well for both schools. Viverito said that each school is guaranteed a minimum of $1 million for each year the teams meet in St. Louis, with an opportunity to make more money. With the game being sold out, it is likely each school will receive more than the guaranteed minimum.
“The benefit to the schools is that this is a financial opportunity to them every year,” Viverito said, “as opposed to playing one game at home, where they realize the financial benefits, and one game on the road, where they don’t.” While the talk on the field is of the opportunity to make this a year to remember for both teams, the biggest opportunity might belong to the city itself, which has worked with the schools in its area over the years to add a wide array of college athletics to its existing sports offerings.
“I think it’s wonderful for the fans of the schools that live here to enjoy a game in this community,” Viverito said. “We’ve been very fortunate that this is the fourth time in the last (seven) years that the schools have played in St. Louis. That game’s been nationally televised each of those years. I think it’s great exposure for St. Louis, and it’s also great exposure for the schools.”

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