MANOA (KHON2) — New changes to the City and County of Honolulu’s reopening strategy Tuesday mean that University of Hawaii athletics fans can go back to eating and enjoying a beverage at sporting events starting in December.
Many in Manoa hope this will mean a boost in attendance at games, but the athletics department says it’s going to take much more than F&B to balance the books.
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UH Athletics was hit harder by COVID restrictions than almost any other University, going without fans in attendance from March of 2020 until October of 2021. That included no food and drink except bottled water during games.
It’s part of its part of the game experience, any type of experience, especially for Hawaii,” UH season ticket holder Kealii Torco said. “I think that it probably will also bring people in now that we have that mandate over with, so it will help with the fans coming.”
More people better come to support. UH is reeling from nearly two-season without the economic driver of football putting people in the seats.
A 2020 board of regent meeting projected a $9.3 million dollar deficit for the athletic department in that fiscal year.
“It’s been a very difficult time and it’s going to take a very long time,” former regent Jeff Portnoy said. “Frankly, it’s going to take the significant contribution of funds from the legislature for Hawaii to maintain a division one athletic program.”
The state gives UH $4 million annually for UH Manoa and Hilo athletics.
State senator Glenn Wakai says the legislature wants the athletic department to look for help elsewhere first.
“Before we go and open up the purse strings, I think they really need to look at self-sufficiency,” Sen. Wakai said. “So it’s not just the fan base with the corporate sponsorship looking at the private sector to help offset some of their loss of revenues.”
Portnoy doesn’t think that is feasible and wants the legislature to commit to maintaining D1 status for Hawaii as conference realignment and name image and likeness change the college athletics landscape.
“We have no Fortune 500 companies that are going to put a million dollars forward,” Portnoy said. “I have no idea what SoFi and the Bank of Hawaii have paid for their sponsorships, but it’s peanuts compared to what the major universities are getting.”
When it comes to the proposed New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District, Wakai says build it, and they will come.
“You look at when the University of Hawaii went to play UNLV a couple of weeks ago, thousands upon thousands of our neighbors went over to Las Vegas to see them play in a first-class facility,” Wakai said.
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UH declined comment Tuesday saying they’re still working on logistics for restrictions being dropped, but they are confident concessions will be available Dec. 1.