As soon as the traveler heard where Debbie Wilson lives and works, he immediately knew they shared a common interest.
“When the guy on the plane heard I was from Florence, Ala., he started talking about watching the Division II championship game this year,” said Wilson, director of the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Bureau. “He knew about the Harlon Hill Trophy and what it’s about (recognition of the most outstanding player in Division II). That actually happens quite often, with people associating the Shoals with this game.”
The NCAA has held its Division II championship football game in the Shoals for the past 27 years. The 2013 game is scheduled for Braly Stadium in Florence, too, but the host site is undetermined beyond that contest.
The NCAA will accept bids for future games this spring or summer, officials said. A deadline for submitting bids has not been released.
Members of the Shoals National Championship Committee, which handles local responsibilities related to the game each year, said they are uncertain if local officials will make an official bid.
“The local committee is talking and looking at the options,” Florence Mayor Mickey Haddock said. He also is a member of the local game committee.
“It’s my opinion that we will submit a bid again, but that decision has not been made,” Haddock said.
The current arrangement sends the first $65,000 made from ticket sales and sponsorships to the local game committee to help offset expenses, with the NCAA receiving the next $35,000. Any additional revenue is split between the NCAA and the Shoals committee.
Haddock said the local committee spends about $100,000 annually to hold the game in the Shoals. He said this month’s Valdosta versus Winston-Salem championship game was essentially a break-even proposition for the local committee.
Tickets for the game cost $20 each. Although the announced attendance was 7,527, Haddock said the number of tickets purchased was likely closer to 6,000. The announced attendance includes every body in the stadium, including band members, cheerleaders, game officials and media.
“We had a good, enthusiastic crowd for the game and both schools brought a good number of fans,” Haddock said. “It was a good game and a good atmosphere. Had the two semifinal games gone the other way, however, we may have had 600 or 700 people from the two schools. That would not have been an ideal situation as far as the financial side of the game.”
He estimates there were between 1,500 and 2,000 tickets bought by area residents.
Haddock said the committee, before submitting a bid, must determine local interest in keeping the game. He said the committee also wants to make sure it’s doing everything it can do to market the game.
“If we cannot come up with a plan to increase ticket sales, it could become a challenge for us to host the game in the future,” he said.
Haddock and Wilson are among those who see benefits that come with hosting the game. Grady Liles, chairman of the local game committee, helped bring the championship game from McAllen, Texas, to the Shoals in 1986. He said the game is a blessing to the area.
“It’s the greatest thing we have going,” Liles said. “The publicity that (the University of North Alabama), Florence and the Shoals gets from this game is unbelievable. The live television broadcast provides so much exposure to our area; you can’t put a number on the value of that publicity. And just look at the hotels that have been built here over the past few years, and this game had a lot to do with it.”
There were few hotel vacancies in Colbert and Lauderdale counties by Wednesday during game week this year. Some visitors found accommodations in Russellville, Athens and Decatur.
“From a tourism standpoint, we’d like to keep the game,” Wilson said. “It was great for the hotels and lodging facilities this year in a month that is not typically busy. I see the pros and cons, but it’s good for tourism.”
From Haddock’s viewpoint, the decision whether to submit another bid is simple.
“Is there still interest from area residents, is it still a positive for our community and will merchants support the game if we call on them to increase their involvement?” he said.
Mike Goens can be reached at mike.goens@TimesDaily.com or 256-740-5740.