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Can Penn State’s hometown survive NCAA sanctions?
State College, in rural central Pennsylvania’s rolling dairy country, has 42,000 permanent residents, not counting about 45,000 graduate and undergraduate students. Already, the team has sold 85,000 season tickets for 2012.
But Chris Stathes, who has a daughter at Penn State and manages one of the two Waffle Shops in State College, said he would not be surprised to see 20,000 or 30,000 empty seats at Beaver Stadium, the nation’s second-largest sports venue. He imagines casual fans tuning out or deciding not to make the drive to see home games in State College, several hours from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
If the team’s football success drove the bus, then the businesses around it were undoubtedly passengers. Some fans make the home games a routine event, and lines of hungry stadium-goers typically go out the door at the Waffle Shops from the time they open at 5:30 a.m. until kickoff.
But now, “what are you going to watch for?” said Stathes, who watches games on TV at self-styled “Penn State Pigouts” with his friends. “They can’t advance to any postseason bowl game or anything like that. People are still going to be disgusted over the whole thing. But I think it’s great … that they will be able to play, that there will be fans coming into town.”
Added Stathes: “If it was a total ban, it would have devastated the community.”
Another area that some analysts say is already hurting is apparel sales.
Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOneSource, a Charlotte, N.C.-based provider of sports business information, said apparel sales are dropping, from about $80 million in 2010 to $60 million after the scandal broke last year to possibly $45 million this year.
At the Old State Clothing Co. a block from campus, Paterno is depicted prominently. One poster shows him on Mount “Rush More” with several defensive players. Assistant manager Jonathan Estable said the loyalty of alumni and students makes him doubt that the NCAA sanctions would have much effect on home-game attendance. However, he said it would not surprise him to see a dip in alumni giving or interest from football recruits.
George Arnold, the executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District, said that some downtown businesses, particularly Penn State apparel retailers, have probably suffered from the scandal, and that certain events, such as the town’s recent arts festival, may not have been attended quite as well as in other years.
Several Penn State fans, whether they buy tickets or watch on TV, insisted they would not lose interest in the team.
“We will go to every game,” said Sam Zamrik, 80, a retired professor of engineering and a season ticket holder for 40 years. “They need our support.”
Begos reported from Pittsburgh. Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam and AP videographer Dan Huff also contributed to this report.
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