Air Force football game expected to bring tourism dollars to area

Air Force, 6-0, 18th ranked nationally, and Notre Dame, 6-0, and ranked 7th, play at Falcon Stadium Saturday in a nationally televised game. Thousands of people are pouring into town, and retailers who survived the soft tourism business this summer will suddenly see some dollars flowing through their cash registers.

How much? And how many will come to Colorado Springs to see the game? That is hard to say, exactly. Several thousand hardly seems to be an overly optimistic estimate.

“Conservatively, we believe visitors will spend about $115 per day per person,” said Jean Watson, director of sports sales at the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

However, it is going to be big, and many hotels and motels report they have waiting lists for rooms; Air Force ticket manager Chris Peludat said he expects game attendance to be the second largest game in school history. Peludat said Air Force’s attendance record was set last year when the Falcons opened its season against defending national champion Oklahoma. A mere 56,162 people attended that contest.

If you have friends coming in for the game, be advised they probably will have to sleep on your couch. Many area motels and hotels are sold out, with many posting lengthy waiting lists.

Not only are hoteliers at capacity, only a few hundred more tickets were available at press time, and you will pay $32 for standing room only, the Academy’s website reported.

The Wyndham Hotel near the Air Force Academy had three rooms available Wednesday. It is also where Notre Dame players and staff are staying.

“We are putting on extra staff in the restaurant and bar,” said Wyndham reservationist Frank Diaz. “Basically, the whole town is going to be sold out.”

That is one of the reasons 61-year-old Phoenix resident Elliot Sparne drove his camper to Colorado Springs. “We drove our camper out Monday and decided to make a vacation of it,” Sparne said. “I have been a Notre Dame fan for years. We thought about driving our car out, but rooms were scarce and every place I called was charging the full rack rate last week.”

Rooms at the Broadmoor are also scarce, as they often are most every weekend.

“We have perhaps 40 rooms available,” said Allison Scott, Broadmoor’s director of communications. The Broadmoor has 700 rooms. The few available rooms will undoubtedly be gone within the next day or so, Scott said.

Sparne and his wife, Ester (we never ask a woman’s age), are staying at a campsite in Manitou Springs.

A Yellow Cab driver who asked that his name not be used said he expects to “pocket a bundle” this week as people start flying into the city. “I don’t know if this game will bring in more people than homecoming weekend, but if it does, I should pocket several hundred bucks this weekend.”

As might be expected, Air Force (and some Notre Dame) jerseys are also hot tickets. Laurel Halme said she spent nearly $50 for an Air Force jersey and hat for her son, 13-year-old Dylan.

“He (Dylan) absolutely would not leave me alone until I purchased this shirt for him,” Halme said.

Restaurants also expect to see increased numbers, and many have added waitstaff.

The national ranking is the highest for Air Force since the final poll of 1998 when Air Force was 10th in the coach’s poll and 13th in the AP poll. AFA has been nationally ranked three consecutive weeks for the first time since 1998.

ESPN College GameDay and GameDay On-line will broadcast nationally this Saturday from the Air Force Academy. The top-rated college football show will broadcast from a yet-to-be-determined site near Falcon Stadium on Saturday from 8:30 to 10 a.m. GameDay On-line is available at ESPN.com.