Big 12 uncertainty causes some anxiety in business community

Friday, June 11, 2010 | 4:45 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Julie Rader has been following the shakeup in the Big 12 Conference and keeping her business in mind.

“It’s certainly a hot topic,” said Rader, owner of Bengal's Bar and Grill on Sixth Street downtown. “We depend heavily on football season.”

Rader said any decision on Missouri’s conference membership will “most definitely” affect other businesses as well.

Rader, who grew up in Columbia, said she hopes the Tigers won’t get left out. “It’s a little unnerving,” she said. “I don’t think anybody knows. It's kind of a little scary.”

Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said there's a mixture of curiosity and anxiety on the business front.

Laird said he trusts the leadership of the university but doesn’t know what’s going to happen. “We’re just anxious to see how it’s all going to unfold,” he said.

On Thursday, Colorado left the Big 12 for the Pac-10 Conference. Nebraska announced its intention to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten on Friday.

Rader said her restaurant and bar sees more customers when Missouri plays big conference teams like Nebraska and Kansas than when the Tigers play teams from smaller schools.

Restaurants, entertainment and nightlife venues, and hotels see the biggest increase in business during football weekends, said Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. The increase in business is seen “pretty much in that order,” she said.

The average football weekend in Columbia brings in an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million, Steiner said.

People are more likely to stay in Columbia longer and dine out more when Missouri plays higher-profile teams like Nebraska, Steiner said.

“Those are rivalries,” Steiner said. “It depends on how the team is doing.” She said Columbia businesses do well even when the Tigers play smaller colleges.

“Definitely a better team gets a better crowd,” said Rusty Walls, owner of The Heidelberg on Ninth Street. He said football weekends in Columbia are among his top 10 busiest weekends.

Walls said he isn't worried about his business being affected by changes to the Big 12. "We're a good enough school. Someone will pick us up somewhere," he  said.

With two schools from the Big 12 jumping ship, it remains to be seen whether the conference will survive.

“The handwriting is kind of on the wall for the Big 12,” said Lance Wood, general manager of Flat Branch Pub and Brewing.

“It doesn’t bother me what conference (Missouri) goes to,” Wood said. He said the danger would be if Missouri doesn’t make a change or if the Big 12 falls apart.

“Do I think if the Big 12 implodes it will hurt business?" Wood said. "Yeah, I think so."

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