Women’s basketball brings traffic to local businesses

Recent team success has boosted apparel, restaurant and bar sales in campus neighborhoods.

Dan Haugen

The Minnesota women’s basketball team has generated more than baskets this year. They’ve also provided an economic assist for area retailers and restaurants that cater to fans.

In the span of a few years, sales of Gophers women’s basketball merchandise has gone from “virtually nothing” to “unbelievable” at Gold Country, said Scott Bitter, operations director of the local sportswear chain.

“Whenever a team does well we see a sales increase,” he said.

Three years ago, Gold Country – with stores in Dinkytown, Stadium Village and the Mall of America – carried hardly any women’s basketball merchandise.

“We were lucky to have a T-shirt,” Bitter said.

Now, the stores stock almost as many styles and products as it does for men’s basketball, he said.

Stadium Village restaurant and bar managers also have noticed a bounce in business from the women’s strong play this season.

Applebee’s, which opened on Washington Avenue in June, was caught off-guard this winter when women’s hoops fans started streaming in before home games.

“We didn’t realize we would get slammed,” host Jeff Schafer said. He said the pregame rushes are not as big as for men’s basketball or hockey, but large enough that the restaurant now adds staff on game days.

Stub & Herbs general manager Jon Landers said business began picking up about halfway through last season. Before that, from a staffing perspective, when the women’s basketball team was playing on campus it was just an ordinary day.

Now, whenever the team plays at Williams Arena, the bar brings in extra employees to help serve near-capacity crowds before the game.

“It’s a really nice mix,” Landers said. “They seem to appeal more to families. We don’t have to worry about tossing out drunks.”

Men’s basketball fans spend more on alcohol, but the rushes for women’s basketball are sometimes overall more profitable because of food and video game revenue, he said.

Tom Nesheim, an assistant manager at Sally’s Saloon and Eatery, said women’s basketball game days have been getting busier for a couple of years. Before last Sunday’s game, the restaurant had a waiting list for seating, he said.

Nesheim also praised the crowd, calling it “a more fun atmosphere” than men’s basketball rushes.

“People are a lot more mellow,” he said, adding that when it comes to beverages, “they like to drink the lighter beers over the other stuff.”

Managers said the women’s games are also important because they often fall on Sunday afternoon when the restaurants ordinarily aren’t busy.

Women’s basketball ticket sales have been a boon to the University, too. The Athletics Department anticipates $775,000 in ticket sales by the end of the season, up from $510,000 last season.