STATE COLLEGE - Despite all of the negative publicity from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and resulting NCAA sanctions against the Penn State football program, it's pretty much business as usual as the Nittany Lions kick off the 2012 season at noon today against Ohio University, local hotel operators said.
Most properties are booked for the opener, which features the coaching debut of Bill O'Brien.
"Normally the Labor Day weekend is a tough sell, but we are sold out this weekend. Everyone seems excited to support Coach O'Brien and the team," said Jim Purdum, general manager of Penn State Hospitality Services, which oversees the university owned and operated Penn Stater Conference Center and the Nittany Lion Inn, which have a total of 523 rooms.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Tim Martin and his dad, Jim, both of Cleveland, check in with Scott Binkley on Friday afternoon at the Ramada Conference Center in State College.
"We are not normally sold out for the first game, but this year we are," said Kathy Punt, motel manager at the 86-room Autoport on South Atherton Street. "The community and alumni are supporting the football team."
Greg Rowell, general manager at the 103-room Hilton Garden Inn on East College Avenue, isn't seeing any major differences.
"It is just like any other year; we are sold out for the weekend," Rowell said. "We are sold out for the games in September and October; we have a few rooms left for Indiana and Wisconsin."
Football weekends are more driven by the game, said Mike Szczesny, director of operations for HFL Hotels, which includes the Sleep Inn, Comfort Suites and Country Inn and Suites with a total of 290 rooms.
"Navy [Sept. 15] filled up immediately. When we had Alabama last year, it sold out immediately," Szczesny said. "For this weekend, most properties are full."
Joe Thomas, general manager of the 284-room Ramada Conference Center on South Atherton Street, said he has seen business as usual but the schedule also plays a role on the number of people staying at his property, which also serves as host to the visiting teams.
"Indiana comes here on Nov. 17, and they are not one of stronger teams in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has a great team, but they are coming over Thanksgiving weekend," Thomas said. "With the November home games when it gets colder, some of the elderly stay at home and don't come."
Everyone is cautious and concerned, Szczesny said.
"We are doing some value-added things like we have in the past. We try to do something different for the football weekends every week. That is not new, but we want to do something to let the people know we appreciate them."
Most properties have rooms available for the Wisconsin game and most continue to require a two-night minimum stay for football weekends. Thomas said because the visiting team only stays on Friday nights, he usually has rooms available for Saturday night and does not require a two night stay.
None of the property officials have made any significant changes to their rates to try to attract customers.
"Our rates were set last year before anything happened, and they have not changed," Punt said.
Properties are already making plans for the 2013 season.
"We are being pro-active and pre-selling rooms for next season," Purdum said.
"Typically, we sell the rooms to university representatives, but we are releasing some rooms to the general public earlier. We have 66 university departments that ask for rooms to accommodate their guests. We have seen internal demand drop off a bit so we are shifting to the general public for next season. At the end of the day, we have to fill our rooms whether they are university related or the general public."
"Our pre-sales for next year are about the same as every other year," said Maggie Patt Biddle, manager of the 150- room Atherton Hotel on South Atherton Street. "I would say it is business as usual. There are so many other reasons to come to State College other than just for football."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.