Hurricane Irma, shaping up to be the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, has already impacted Northeast Arkansas. Cancellation of one of the most highly anticipated college football games in the region’s history is an entertainment disappointment and an economic loss.
The University of Miami and Arkansas State University were slated to play in Jonesboro on Saturday (Sept. 9), but Miami officials opted to cancel the game. ASU officials had expected a sell-out crowd for the match-up against the five-time national champions.
“Having lived in Palm Beach County for seven years, my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in South Florida as they prepare for Hurricane Irma,” ASU Athletics Director Terry Mohajir said. “Over the past 24 hours, I had numerous exchanges with University of Miami Athletics Director Blake James, offering to make additional accommodations for his players and program to assist them with their trip to Memphis and Jonesboro. This morning, I spoke with Blake, who informed me their team will not be making the trip to Jonesboro to play in our game this Saturday.”
It wasn’t clear if the game can or will be rescheduled for a future date. Sunbelt Commissioner Karl Benson and executives at ESPN changed schedules to allow for the game to be played Friday (Sept. 8), but Miami administrators ultimately decided the team didn’t need to travel.
The economic impact to the city losing one of its primary tourism attractions in the fall will be in the millions of dollars. ASU home games generate $1.285 million in out-of-town tourist economic activity per game, according to a study conducted by ASU. A marquee opponent like Miami would have lured a better than average crowd, meaning the impacts are likely greater.
Most road opponents ask for 4,000 tickets for fans, but more nationally recognized programs ask for upwards of 10,000. If 10,000 tickets had been sold, the tourism economic impacts would have ballooned to $4.251 million. The study didn’t tabulate spending by fans that live in the city correlating to the game or include tailgating.
Irma, a category five hurricane with recorded winds topping 185 miles-per-hour, has been churning in the eastern Caribbean smashing islands such as St. Martin and Antigua with high winds and torrential rains. The storm, larger than the state of Ohio as of Wednesday afternoon, is expected to pelt Puerto Rico and parts of Cuba, before turning north toward Florida this weekend. Several models have the eye of the storm churning near or through Miami, but it will be a few days before its exact path is known, according to the National Weather Service.
ASU and Miami agreed to play a home and home series in 2013. ASU played at Miami in 2014. If the game had been played in Jonesboro, it would have been the first home game for the Red Wolves against an Atlantic Coast Conference team in the school’s history.
The annual Order of the Pack student spirit event is rescheduled for Sept. 14. The 21st annual event will now precede what will be the home opener, a game with UAPB on Saturday, Sept. 16. The Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce has also rescheduled its annual Big Great A-State Tailgate to Friday, Sept. 15 in downtown.