More than 48 hours before kickoff, George Anthony was already decked out in Alcorn State gear and taking in the scene around Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood.
“We haven’t had a season in almost two years now, so everyone’s excited,” said Anthony, who flew in from Baton Rouge, La., Thursday afternoon. He hosts a podcast covering the Southwestern Athletic Conference, or SWAC. Alcorn State faces North Carolina Central Saturday evening in a match-up of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
While he’s in Atlanta, Anthony says he wants to see the College Football Hall of Fame exhibit dedicated to Black college es and eat at Neyow’s Creole Cafe, a well-known New Orleans restaurant that’s set to open an Atlanta location this weekend.
“I love to eat, so I’m excited about that,” said Anthony.
The start of the college football season and the PGA Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club are expected to bring thousands of visitors to Atlanta over the next two weeks. Despite a recent surge in coronavirus cases, it’s expected to mark the return of an industry that has been largely absent over the past 18 months – sports tourism.
One of the first major sporting events canceled by the pandemic in the spring of 2020 was the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta. For a long time after that, capacity was limited at sporting events, if they happened at all.
William Pate, president and CEO of Atlanta’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, says that came at a cost.
“You know your hotels are going have limited occupancy, restaurants are going to be affected as well as all of the businesses that support visitors into the city,” said Pate.
But with college football and golf returning, plus Atlanta United, the Falcons and the Braves all in action in the coming week – and at full capacity, business should pick up. Pate says that will put Atlanta back in the sports tourism game.
“The great opportunity for us with sports is that it oftentimes will bring people to the city that have been here for the first time,” Pate said.
ESPN’s popular College GameDay program is in town Saturday morning for a live broadcast outside Georgia State’s football facility, Center Parc Stadium. The three-hour show will give a national audience a glimpse at the ever-evolving Summerhill neighborhood
“Atlanta is used to be on the national stage, but it’s incredibly exciting to see that Georgia State gets its chance to shine,” said Scott Taylor, president and CEO of Carter, the company that’s working to develop the Summerhill neighborhood.
He says in addition to national exposure, he says it could give a boost to neighborhood restaurants.
“We hope folks will come down and check it out,” said Taylor. “We think it’s an exciting opportunity for all the businesses in Summerhill and those along Georgia Avenue.”