the time out is over—and mountaineer fans and local businesses are enjoying the return to play.
Written by Kaylyn Christopher
The Book Exchange has long provided college students with textbooks and school supplies, but it’s also a place where Mountaineer fans find the perfect game-day attire and tailgate necessities. Its prime location between the Coliseum and the stadium buzzes with extra excitement during football season.
“Home football games are obviously very important to us, just like the rest of the Morgantown area,” says Matt Livengood, manager of the store’s Patteson Drive location. “On a normal football game day, we will have hundreds of customers visit us in just a few hours before the game.”
The excitement and spending spills over into area restaurants and bars, too. “Each fall, the six home football games hosted at Milan Puskar Stadium account for, without a doubt, our biggest weekends of the year. We always have a steady stream of customers from open to close,” says Jerry Lorenze, owner of Kegler’s Sports Bar. “Last fall was very much different. We were only open at 50 percent capacity, and masks were mandated. It really took away from the usual experience.”
During the unprecedented pandemic season last fall, even West Virginia University and its athletic department were not spared.
“We were devastated. The entire sports and entertainment industry was devastated,” says Simon Dover, WVU Athletics’ Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director for Business Operations. WVU Athletics is a major economic driver for the university, the city of Morgantown, and the state: According to a survey completed by economic impact research company Tripp Umbach during the 2017–18 academic year, it brought in over $246 million in visitor and fan spending and created more than 2,000 jobs.
So when COVID-19 restrictions made fans trade in their sideline seats for spots on their couches and their freshly poured draft from concessions for cans of beer from the fridge, both social and financial struggles ensued.
“The biggest loss was the benefit of gathering with 60,000 of our closest friends in gold and blue to cheer on the Mountaineers,” says Matt Wells, Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs. “But we can’t discount the revenue impact for the athletic department, the University as a whole, and certainly for the local and state economy.”
With the Mountaineers now into a full football schedule and six home games this fall, fans are back to supporting the home team.
“I think fans are excited,” says Wells. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from our ticket offices, and there’s also been a lot of interaction and engagement on social media.”
That excitement is likewise shared amongst local business owners, who want to get back to doing what they do best—serving the community. And for many of them, like Livengood, it’s not just about the bottom line. It’s about the sense of pride and the camaraderie that comes with being a Mountaineer at heart: a full stadium, a packed Coliseum, “and swaying back and forth arm-in-arm with my fellow Mountaineers singing ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ at the top of our lungs.”