Co-owner Jeff Bailey is sure Hokie Smokie Restaurant on Mountcastle in north Johnson City will be an obvious choice for fans during the week of the big game between UT and Virginia Tech at BMS. (Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)
No matter who has the most points when the final whistle blows on Sept. 10, 2016, one clear winner from the “Biggest College Football Game Ever” will be the local economy.
Johnson City Chamber of Commerce CEO Gary Mabrey said Monday that the massive tourist magnet of a game between the University of Tennessee Volunteers and the Virginia Tech Hokies played at Bristol Motor Speedway could bring millions of dollars into the Tri-Cities.
“Just imagine 180,000 fans packed into that wonderful bowl,” Mabrey said. “The economic impact is incalculable.”
At a much-hyped press event Monday, representatives of both schools’ sports programs and BMS management made the game official, signing contracts for the “Battle at Bristol, The Biggest Football Game Ever.”
With nearly three years’ worth of promotions from the organizers and the schools, Mabrey said the spectacular event could fill every hotel room within 30 miles and bring diehard fans from beyond the two nearby cities where the teams’ respective home fields are located.
“Something of this scale has never happened before,” he said. “This is going to be the largest sports event in the NCAA and all of football. I think it could bring football fans from all over the world.”
Steve Bales, general manager of Johnson City’s Courtyard by Marriott off State of Franklin Road, said he fielded calls most of the day Monday from travel agents hoping to book up to 100 rooms for the big game weekend three years from now.
“First of all, we don’t have 100 rooms to book, and second of all, I can’t open up rooms until the fourth quarter of 2015 for those dates,” he said.
Marriott’s reservation system doesn’t allow rooms to be rented more than a year in advance, but Bales said the company may consider establishing a waiting list for sports fans hoping to watch the big game.
“There is going to be a great demand for hotels in the Tri-Cities area — not just Johnson City — and a huge economic impact,” he said. “It was an awesome idea from the get-go, and I think it’s great that the two teams were able to come together.”
Carnegie Hotel Director of Sales Crystal Phillips said her hotel is already in negotiations with a large group hoping to score rooms for the event.
“We’re incredibly excited by this announcement,” she said. “We always say the name of the game is ‘heads and beds,’ and this will definitely bring plenty of people into the region.”
The Tri-Cities business that seems best poised to take advantage of the college football matchup is the aptly named Hokie Smokie Restaurant on Mountcastle Drive in Johnson City.
Inside, the barbecue eatery is decorated in the colors and memorabilia of both teams announced to play in the monumental game.
Part-owner Jeff Bailey said the establishment’s fortuitous name and theme come from a family with split loyalties.
“Basically, my father, my brother and I are owners,” he said. “Our father went to Virginia Tech, and my brother and I went to the University of Tennessee, that’s where the Hokie Smokie comes from.”
Since word of the event was leaked last week, Bailey said customers, often sports fans, have been excited by the news.
He said he and the other owners will take the next couple of years to plan an appropriate media blitz to properly capitalize on the big game.
“The name in itself is pretty good advertising for us, but we’re looking at several different possibilities,” he said. “We may get a box at the game, if it’s possible, and have a promotion or sell off raffle tickets to win a ticket to the game.”
Bailey said they also plan to explore the possibility of selling food at a remote location near the speedway.
“It lines up pretty good with us,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about getting this opportunity.”