Land of plenty: SEC rivalries fuel economies

BY foxsports • July 11, 2012

You could forgive his exuberance.

When Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown said that the Georgia-Florida game generated an economic boom of $80 million for the “first coast” city and all its businesses, even the Chamber of Commerce did a double-take.

The game is certainly important for Northeast Florida. Visit Jacksonville, the entity that tracks tourism in the region, estimates that the game nets about $20 million to the city's economy. That is a healthy number, but a fourth of Mayor Brown's proclamation.

Again, he can be forgiven. For like everything else in the SEC, competition for the biggest and best rivalry game can drive people to exaggeration.

Unlike other parts of the college football universe where rivalry games are relegated to the final weeks of the year – Oregon-Oregon State, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Michigan-Ohio State, and on and on – SEC rivalry games begin in early October and extend through the end of the year, with each state and region doing their best to out-hype and out-perform the others.

Economic impact estimates can be tough to quantify, especially when relying on voluntary data from businesses that may or may not be eager to open their books, but economics do their best. And the best, by miles, is the Iron Bowl, which brings a boom to the state of Alabama of between $100 million and $170 million every year.

Knoxville generates in the tens of millions when Alabama comes to town, as does Baton Rouge when the Tide play LSU.

And while most of these numbers pale in comparison to the economic brouhaha of Michigan-Ohio State, the fact is, there are simply more big-time rivalry games in the Southeast than in any other part of the country.

Take the state of Georgia for example: If you are in the city of Columbus near Fort Benning and the Alabama state line, Georgia-Auburn is your rivalry game of the year. If you live in Savannah or Waycross or Thomasville near the Florida line, then Georgia-Florida is the be-all and end-all of your season. If you live in Dalton or Dade County near the Tennessee line, Georgia–Tennessee is your must-see game of the season. And if you live in Augusta, Georgia–South Carolina is your rivalry matchup.

The same is true with the Gamecocks. While the South Carolina–Clemson rivalry ranks at the top of everyone's list, the other rivalry games vary depending upon region. For people in Aiken, the Georgia game is tops. If you're in the mountains of Pickens, the Tennessee game means a lot to you. And if you live near the beaches of Hilton Head, the South Carolina–Florida game is the one you want to see.

Alabama-Auburn means everything in that state. But in Huntsville, Alabama–Tennessee stands alone in second place, while the people in Mobile can't wait for the Tide to take on the Tigers of LSU every year.

Just how Missouri and Texas A&M will fit into this mix remains to be seen, but you can rest assured that the fans will be on the lookout for new rivalries.

And you can also be that politicians and business leaders -- those stewards of the local economies in Columbia, Mo., and College Station, Texas -- will do everything they can to promote those games as blood feuds.

Millions in revenue depend on it.