If Americans are worried about high unemployment rates and a shaky economy, you wouldn’t know that by the rate of spending by visitors to the Rose Bowl game and Rose Parade in Pasadena.
Throughout Pasadena, tourists and football fans shuffled in and out of shops and restaurants, splurging at a pace that merchants say they haven’t seen in years.
“Most years we just have grazers,” said Marci Toombs, owner of Lula Mae, a gift shop on North Fair Oaks Avenue. “This year people are arriving earlier and shopping. I think the word ‘recession’ is going to lose its place in conversation soon.”
But it’s not just $9 gag gifts or $25 souvenir T-shirts that tourists are buying.
The official ticket and hospitality provider for the event reported a 21% increase in sales of package deals, which cost up to $2,000 and include tickets to the game, grandstand seats for the parade, hotel reservations and access to pre-game tailgate parties.
“This year we saw a considerable increase in sales,” said Sam Soni, president of PrimeSport, the ticketing and management company for the Rose Bowl game.
Some Pasadena merchants estimated that sales of food and souvenirs were up 5% to 10% over a year ago. But they couldn’t be certain whether the uptick in spending was a sign of renewed confidence in the economy or the result of extra-motivated followers of this year’s Rose Bowl game opponents.
Because of Bowl Championship Series rules, no Pac-10 team was picked to play in the Rose Bowl game this time. Instead, the game will pit the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University against the Badgers of the University of Wisconsin.
Tourism boosters in Southern California say the matchup will be especially good for the local economy because TCU has never played in the bowl game in Pasadena, and its ardent fans are sure to stay in Southern California to soak up the atmosphere. And the Wisconsin faithful, boosters say, will be in no hurry to return to below-freezing temperatures in the Midwest.
“From experience, we know that Wisconsin fans come for the whole experience, and spend well to have that,” said Paul Little, president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. “We hope that TCU fans will do the same.”
Liz Daigle, the mother of three TCU students, said she was doing her part to spend well. She had organized a trip for eight of her friends and family, including visits to Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, a tour of Hollywood sites and grandstand seats along the parade route.
“I feel if you come to the Rose Bowl once in a lifetime, you should go all out,” Daigle said as she got ready to leave the filled-to-capacity Pie ‘N Burger restaurant on California Boulevard.
Owen Haggard, a friend and neighbor from Plano, Texas, and a TCU graduate from 1966, agreed. “This is a big deal for us,” he said.
The tiny eatery, known for its homemade pies, was packed with customers wearing the colors of Wisconsin (cardinal red) and TCU (purple). At least a dozen people waited to be seated.
Mike Osborn, the restaurant’s owner, said this year’s Rose Bowl fans were spending much more than last year, but he couldn’t explain why.
“I have a tendency not to question it when things are good,” he said.
Although a winter storm brought rain and cold temperatures to Southern California this week, merchants said the weather had not had much effect on sales.
For Wisconsin alumni Bill Gansner of Madison, Wis., and his son, Elliott, the shaky economy takes a back seat to football.
“The expense and the recession are a little bit of a concern, but the Rose Bowl is a special event,” Bill Gansner said. “The loyalty to the team overcomes those worries.”
Gansner has attended three other Rose Bowl games since 1994. He plans to see the game, the parade and a few museums while he is in town.
Another theory for the upswing in spending, said Osborn, who sits on a national board of restaurant owners, is that the game and the parade are drawing visitors from parts of the country where the economy is rebounding faster than in California.
He added: “Everyone has been in a good mood and people are certainly spending, which is a good thing.”
Near the Rose Bowl, where dozens of fans for both teams lined up to watch workers put the finishing touches on a float in the Rosemont Pavilion, Chris Pond sold T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats from the same spot where he sold souvenirs a year ago.
“Both of these teams are buying more than fans bought last year,” he said. “It was slow yesterday, but as we get closer to the game it has started to pick up.”