COLUMBIA, MO (KTVI)– Columbia, Missouri is gearing up for its first foray into Southeastern Conference football, and there is plenty of optimism about the benefits of the move, both on and off the field. The off the field benefits were visible in the form of hundreds of red clad Georgia Bulldog fans who were already pouring into the city Friday.
A middle aged man in red and black sat at the bar at Harpo’s, barking, Friday.
“Sick ‘em Dawgs!” he shouted with a Georgia drawl, seeming to personally announce the arrival of the SEC in Columbia.
Harpo’s owner says he can already see the difference in the number of visitors generated by Mizzou’s new league.
“I think it’s already a bigger vibe,” Chuck Naylor said. “I walked in and there’s tables of red already on a Friday afternoon before the game. I think the SEC is here.”
It points to the change in conferences living up to expectations. A study released Thursday by Columbia’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau is forecasting an additional $40 million in economic impact compared to 2011, the Tigers’ last year in the Big 12 Conference.
“It’s created so much excitement,” Megan McConachie of Columbia’s CVB said. “Definitely much higher profile, not just for the athletic department, but for the community. So lots of people coming in earlier than usual, and that lets them get acquainted with our community and hopefully they’ll come back.”
And more are on the way. Columbia’s airport reports more than 150 flight plan requests from private jets and planes, all looking for nonstop routes from Atlanta to Mid-Missouri this weekend.
Delta Airlines has also added nonstop flights from Atlanta to Columbia this weekend to accommodate football fans.
Back at Harpo’s it all adds up to a weekend that could actually top what is normally their busiest of the year.
“This weekend we’re planning like it’s a homecoming weekend which is usually one of our top weekends,” Naylor said. “So we’re staffing and planning and getting ready for a homecoming sized crowd.”
On the streets, there was some good natured ribbing, but Mizzou fans say they hope the taunting will be kept to a minimum among fans. Here, they’re hoping hospitality will trump hostility, even with a high stakes football game set for Faurot Field.
“I’m hoping it doesn’t start,” David Anderson said of jawing among fans. “I hope we have a good one. Because I don’t want to be the jerks who come into the new conference.”
His friend Kevin Osterberger added how friendly the fans from the south had been thus far.
“We got a lot of welcome to the SEC from the Georgia fans,” he said.