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Winning football season means big crowds and good business

OXFORD — In their fifth SEC game of the 2001 season, Ole Miss was defeated by the Arkansas Razorbacks Nov. 3rd, but not until they went into overtime — seven times.

After that game, the Rebels have now lost only two games in the SEC; the other one was to Auburn. Considering the fact that the team is made up mainly of freshmen and sophomores this year though, a record like the Rebels’ is nothing to sneeze at.

Max Hipp, executive director of the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, was excited to have a crowd back in Oxford. This year the team is playing six games at home, and with two rainstorms and one game postponed, some might think that would be detrimental to businesses. But in the case of Oxford, that is not necessarily so.

Still, games do make a difference, Hipp said. An early game may mean less business for Oxford shops, because people are at the game instead of shopping throughout the day.

“Night games traditionally are better for the business community,” Hipp said.

Marilyn Goolsby, property manager at the Oxford Mall, said due to the lack of home games Ole Miss has played, it has been hard to gauge exactly how big the crowd would be due to a winning team. She expected to see bigger crowds shopping in the mall in the future because of the winning season.

“Homecoming was successful,” Goolsby said. “I think we will see bigger crowds. We always see big crowds for Oxford, but it will get bigger and better.”

But this year’s crowd may be no comparison to next year’s. Goolsby noted that there was a lack of seating due to the construction of new seating in the south end zone. That construction means there is only room for 45,800 fans. After the construction is finished, there will be more than 60,000 seats.

Regardless of the fact that there are fewer seats this year than there will be next, there have still been plenty of fans in Oxford to visit the city’s businesses.

“Five of the six (home) games have sold out,” said Sans Russell, assistant athletic director for ticket operations. “This year, if it (the football season) finishes strong I expect next year there will be record-setting ticket sales.”

Amanda Lewis, manager of Neilson’s Department Store, expected an excellent turnout to her business for the Arkansas game.

“We’ll have a great day Saturday, depending on the weather,” Lewis said prior to the game. “Hopefully we’ll have some traffic early in the day.”

But, Lewis said, “Luckily with Ole Miss, win or lose the fans like to come to Oxford to shop. We’ve been lucky in that aspect. Ole Miss fans are loyal and come back no matter what the season is, win or lose. They like to come to Oxford and we like to have them.”

Randy Yates, the owner of Ajax Diner, said business was great at his restaurant for the weekend of the Ole Miss-Alabama game because of the rain.

“If it rains, everyone doesn’t go to the Grove all weekend,” Yates said. “This weekend (the Arkansas game) will really tell the tale though because (Ole Miss has beaten) LSU. And Arkansas is always a big weekend.”

Everyone Yates has spoken to had good sales the weekend of the Alabama game.

“We’re expecting a great turnout for Arkansas too,” he said prior to the game.

Russell has not yet calculated how many season tickets could be sold next year, but this year 37,000 non-student season tickets were sold.

“I’d like to think that next year we’re going to go way up (on season ticket sales),” Russell said. “I would just say that anyone who’s interested in attending season games should buy season tickets to ensure that they have a seat (for next year’s football season).”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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