This year’s homecoming was not only a win on the field for Florida A&M’s Rattlers, but also a boost for Tallahassee’s economy.
A report conducted by the Leon County Division of Tourism Development highlights that thousands came to the area from outside of Tallahassee, breaking records found in two previous studies that focused on FAMU’s homecoming.
This year’s study was conducted by Downs & St. Germain Research, a Tallahassee-based marketing firm. The study noted that nearly 11,500 visitors, with a median age of 40, came for homecoming festivities from outside of Tallahassee. The visitors combined spent 6,483 nights in local hotels and motels.
About 29,000 fans packed Bragg Memorial Stadium this year, simultaneously bringing more than $4 million into the city – that’s an estimated $300 spent by everyone who attended FAMU’s homecoming.
In comparison, 2004’s homecoming weekend brought in $3.3 million and 7,778 out-of-towners.
Gary Stogner, senior marketing director of Visit Tallahassee, says homecoming was a significant economic generator.
“It affects not only businesses directly – as far as hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, as well as retailers – it also supports a significant amount of jobs in the county. More people are employed, and more jobs are created,” Stogner said.
The Big Bend area recognizes the uniqueness of FAMU’s homecoming as a time for alumni to come back and visit their alma mater. Leon County Administrator Vincent Long says that not only did the school do an “excellent” job on the football game, but also on the other events for alumni.
“I think FAMU does a particularly good job of providing a whole week of homecoming activities that attract young alums and older alums and alum with families … It’s a significant event for Tallahassee. There’s only a handful of events that compare in numbers,” Long said.
FAMU’s homecoming dollars not only affected the Tallahassee and Leon County economy, but also affected small business owners close to the campus.
Zach Clemons, owner of In and Out Barbershop, says his shop was busy from Sunday to Sunday. During the week, he saw almost 20 more heads than usual.
He’s been on the corner of Disston and Gamble streets for nine years and has a close relationship with the community.
“The students come in looking for guidance and counseling, so I consider myself a community barbershop —a mentor for the neighborhood,” he said.
His mother, wife and daughter all attended FAMU and although he didn’t, he still considers himself a Rattler. He’s a season ticket holder and for any game that he can’t take off from work, he makes sure the seats are still filled. During the week, he always enjoys seeing old customers.
“I’m into the second and third generation, so I’m seeing my old customers, and they’re introducing me to their kids that are at FAMU … That’s the part I love about homecoming,” Clemons said of his customers.
Clemons also believes that changing the parade route to be through the FAMU campus and close community, instead of Frenchtown, allowed more children and youth to get a taste of the university’s culture. He’s excited knowing that kids are ready to come to FAMU.
“A lot of people like it because it’s getting their kids to want to know more about FAMU. They want to attend. They’re asking to walk around campus and take tours,” he said.
Dana Dennard, owner of Nefetari's Fine Cuisine & Spirits Restaurant, has much of the same sentiment. He knows that most of his customers are people that know him, including many past students.
Although the restaurant was not as busy as previous years, the psychology professor at FAMU said, “[Homecoming] has a lot to do with my relationship with my past students and their families. It truly is a homecoming for me,” Dennard said.
Dennard has been teaching since the ‘80s, and lives on Barbourville Drive near the campus. He’s seen some of the best and worst of the events and festivities of FAMU’s homecoming. He dreads the week for that reason, noting the shooting deaths this year.
Dennard said that homecoming attracts alumni and friends alike simply because of the memories alums try to “retain and recapture.”
“It’s like a family reunion. It should remind you of purpose … I love to see my people, how my ‘C students’ are now living an ‘A student life.’ It’s like, I can put up with a couple more knuckleheads. I can live on Barbourville a little longer. I do see a product,” he said.
Between both Clemons and Dennard, the numbers from this year don’t lie. During the highest-attended homecoming game since 2010, the university contributed a record amount of money to the city.
“Nothing helps football like winning,” Stogner says. “Having much more success in football this year is playing out very well, and fans are responding well, and when fans respond well, they tend to travel.”
Hopefully, the numbers of people visiting FAMU could help recruitment and improve enrollment numbers, Dennard said. He added that the exposure to the university alone could be beneficial, especially in the context of the country’s racial tension.
“Finding black people living together in harmony, doing something constructive and not fighting is extremely powerful psychologically for young people,” he said.
He said the cultural tradition at FAMU is a continuous memory for alumni and it keeps them coming back.
The Rattlers are on a winning streak. Clemons said, “the dark cloud that’s over our head is coming from over us.”