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Empty Football Seats Put Crunch On Pullman Economy

Photo of Martin Stadium in Pullman, WA

Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA (2016) | PHOTO: KANALE RHODEN

PULLMAN, Wash. – In a non-pandemic world, the parking lot across from Martin Stadium is usually packed with campers and tailgaters all gathering for one thing: Cougar football.

But when Washington State University hosts its first home game of the year on Saturday, the stands – and the parking lot – will be empty. 

As a result, businesses in Pullman are facing difficult economic times. Tom Handy, owner of Paradise Creek Brewery, said his fall revenue will be half what is it in a typical year.

“Business this fall is more like January and February over and over again, which are our slowest months,” Handy said in an email. 

Handy knows he is not alone as many other businesses are trying to survive the lackluster economic activity. Pullman could lose up to $13 million in visitor spending this year, according to a study conducted by Emsi, a market data company based in Moscow, Idaho. Emsi estimates that WSU brings more than $845 million to the local economy during a normal year. 

Marie Dymkoski, executive director of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce, described the town’s economy as a wave with highly profitable months — like football season – that keep businesses afloat during the rest of the year.  

“Without these events, it is like January and February all over again, which is a low retail time,” Dymkoski said, echoing Handy’s description. 

Not only do businesses struggle without football, but the WSU athletic department is struggling to generate revenue like it has in the last several years. Ticket sales to WSU sports generate about $8.6 million, much of it from football, according to the university. 

In a typical football season, parents and alumni flock to Pullman like migratory birds finding a familiar home for a weekend. Handy described WSU events as a “major” source of his income that contributes to several different aspects of his business, including catering and parties.  

 “We can do things to better serve the Pullman community during the pandemic, but there is no way to replace the tens of thousands of customers that WSU events bring in,” Handy added.  

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