The economic impact of University of Tennessee sports sometimes can be taken for granted a part of the landscape like the Great Smoky Mountains but a consultants study released last week shows the Big Orange produces some serious green.
The study, conducted by the Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Tripp Umbach, found UT sports has an economic impact of $618 million a year on Knox County and $464 million on the state of Tennessee.
While the numbers appear at first glance to be nonsensical, there is a valid reason the figure for the county is higher than the figure for the state as a whole. The firm counted dollars that come from outside the area studied, so the Knox County figure includes money coming in from other parts of Tennessee as well as out-of-state money. Only out-of-state money is used for the statewide figure.
The study cost the UT Athletic Department $74,000 and provides an opportunity to gauge and appreciate the economic impact of Volunteer sports on the state and the local community.
As they say in the tourism business, the UT Athletic Department, especially the football program, puts heads in beds. The result is $74 million generated each year by Knox County hotels and motels. The study did not break out other counties, but lodging is tough to come by in the surrounding area when the Vols play in Neyland Stadium. Other sectors reap the benefits as well the annual impact is $52 million in retail food and beverage and $30 million in limited service restaurants.
As would be expected, football has the most impact of any sport, injecting $355.7 million into the Knox County economy. Visitor spending accounts for $292.1 million. On an average football game weekend, 70 percent of the fans will come from outside Knox County, and their impact on the local economy will be $41.7 million.
Mens basketball comes in second at $108.4 million, while the Lady Vols basketball team generates $42.6 million.
The study also found athletics at UT supports 6,500 jobs in Knox County 4,310 directly and 2,190 indirectly. In addition to hotel and restaurant employees, jobs are created in stores selling clothing and accessories, personal services, transportation and even real estate.
State and local governments receive $26.8 million in tax revenues each year, plus $1.8 million in amusement tax payments from football and mens basketball ticket sales.
The study also conducted surveys to develop fan profiles. Most football and mens basketball fans come from outside Knox County, while Lady Vols fans tend to live inside the county. Fans from outside the state spend $308 every day they are in town for a football game.
The fans have disposable income to spend. The annual household income for the typical Lady Vols fan is $70,000 to $89,999. The typical Tennessee football fans household earns more than $100,000 a year. In comparison, the median household income in Tennessee is $44,621.
The study examined the impact of all sports, not just the big three. Collectively, their economic impact on Knox County is $61.8 million a year.
The report did not neglect the intangible benefits, citing sports as a way to unify UT alumni, faculty staff and students; provide community service opportunities for student-athletes; enhance the student experience; spur private-sector development; promote the university, the city of Knoxville, Knox County and the state; and more.
Of course, for UT fans the biggest intangible benefit is beating Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and any other opponent in just about any sport. Bragging rights have value, too.
Big Orange fans rejoice when UT wins, but even on the occasions the Vols come up short on the scoreboard, Knox County businesses emerge victorious.