After more than a year of adjusted playing schedules and limited attendance, the University of Idaho will kick off its first live football game in front of a full audience today since the pandemic began.
Based on ticket sales, IU officials said they expect around 4,000 people to attend today’s game against British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University, in Canada. Officials said everyone inside school facilities will be asked to wear masks, but there will be few COVID-19 restrictions otherwise.
With Washington State University tonight’s game against Utah State, businesses in Moscow say they’re expecting a big weekend.
“We’re almost exhausted, but not exhausted yet — I guess we’ll get there,” said Mike O’Brien, general manager of the Best Western Plus University Inn. “It’s just great to have the football back on the Palouse and to open the season with a double header. The fans are excited, I’m excited.
With COVID-19 restrictions in place and no fans in the stands, O’Brien said area hotels were pretty much empty last year, but they’ve had other big nights since the trips to northern Idaho returned over the summer. With all the pent-up travel demand, O’Brien said his hotel was fully booked several times over the summer vacation.
Brett Woodland, who co-owns the Monarch Motel and Nectar Restaurant with his wife Nikki Woodland, said they had run out of rooms and also expected an increase in restaurant traffic. But just having big crowds in town for the weekend doesn’t always mean it’ll be a big deal for local restaurants.
“With football it kind of depends on what time the games are. If it’s evening games we don’t see a huge bump – sometimes in the past we might have seen a little dip,” Woodland said. “(Nectar is) still not at full capacity – since the pandemic, even after we reopened, we haven’t returned to full capacity. So we fill up almost every evening, but we also don’t have as many seats as usual.
Woodland said these doubles football weekends may also result in lower overall revenue for the fall. He said a single game in a weekend can already push restaurants and hotels to capacity, and with two games at a time they often have to turn away customers. It may also mean that there are fewer profitable weekends on their fall schedules than there otherwise would have been.
Woodland and O’Brien noted that their businesses, along with several others in town, are experiencing labor shortages that could affect wait times.
“With a big weekend like this – a double – Pullman and Moscow are going to be filled to the brim with cheering fans, but in our restaurants and our hotel workers are struggling with a shortage of staff,” said O’Brien. “So please be kind, be patient, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
Saturday’s game at UI also marks the first time the school marching band will be able to perform in front of a live audience since the winter of 2019.
Director Spencer Martin said there will still be differences in their performances this year due to the pandemic. Martin said there will be no pre-game show as band members cannot be on the pitch at the same time as the football team, they will wear masks when not playing not and will not be able to move and play at the same time. However, he predicted fans would stand, cheer and sing along with the halftime show they had been working on since mid-August.
Despite the restrictions, Martin said he’s prouder than ever of the work done by the Vandal Marching Band.
“Last year wasn’t negative at all, last year was actually very fulfilling,” he said. “But to see some of these students who are, say, sophomores who had never known (a live UI fanfare performance) – it’s fun to watch them in this scene now too .”