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'Shot in the arm': Hotels, businesses struggling with pandemic hope for boost from Packers home playoff game


Jeff Bollier   | Green Bay Press-Gazette

GREEN BAY - Airlines will have seats to book and hotels rooms to reserve, but no one is sure what to expect when playoff football and Packers fans return Saturday to Green Bay. 

A Green Bay Packers home playoff game normally sets off a mad scramble among thousands of fans to buy tickets, find a place to stay and arrange travel to the area. The activity, combined with spending at bars, restaurants, shops and attractions can inject as much as $15 million into the Green Bay-area economy. 

But when the Green Bay Packers host the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday, only 6,000 season ticket holders will be able attend the game at Lambeau Field, less than one-tenth of the stadium’s normal capacity, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And those tickets cannot be resold, which rules out attendance by fans who are not season ticket holders.

It is hard to tell what to expect without knowing how many who buy tickets on Tuesday live outside the Green Bay area, said Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Brad Toll.

"We really have no idea where these fans are from," Toll said. "Are they local? Not local? We really don’t know that. Even if half of them are local, there’s a lot of variables until the tickets actually get sold. We won’t really know until then."

Zoi and Paul Belschner, operators of the Lambeau area short-term rental Ron Wolf's Hall of Fame Clubhouse, hadn't expected to book the Shadow Lane property for the weekend due to the limited number of fans able to attend and restrictions on transferring tickets. 

Yet, much to their surprise, a group from California reserved the property for the weekend, Paul Belschner said on Monday. Tickets or no tickets, Belschner said, the group must just want to be there. 

"I wouldn't have expected it with the small number of people and the non-transfer rules," he said. "This has got to be Rams people. But do they have tickets? Or do they just want to be there? We'll find out over the weekend, but it's pretty cool."

Toll said any activity in the stadium area will provide "a glimmer of hope" for hotels, bars, restaurants, shops and short-term rental operators who have struggled through a regular season almost entirely without fans at Lambeau Field due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Any additional number of people is a desperately needed shot in the arm for the industry. We’re so thrilled we have extra games in January and some fans are able to go, and we may see some of that revenue generated throughout the community,” Toll said. “We’re glad to see it. The priority now is to make sure it’s done safely.”

Toll encouraged visitors to wear masks, observe physical distancing requirements and adhere to any other safety guidelines businesses have in place. 

“We want to keep our visitors and our community safe,” Toll said. 

He said the region's hotel room occupancy rate, which was 57.4% in 2019, dropped to 37.5% by November, slightly above the statewide occupancy rate of 37%. He expects short-term rental properties available through websites like Airbnb or Vacation Rentals By Owner have seen a similar decline in activity. 

Season ticket holders who are able to buy seats to Saturday's playoff game and do have to find accommodations will find prices for hotel rooms, short-term rentals and flights are much lower than one year ago, when the Packers defeated the Seattle Seahawks in a divisional round game. 

That weekend, a Green Bay-area hotel room cost $190 to $400 per night while short-term rentals on Airbnb and VRBO ranged from $249 per night to more than $1,500 per night for larger properties. 

On Monday, searches on Expedia and Hotels.com for rooms available for check-in Friday and check-out on Sunday found rooms available at most hotels in the Green Bay area at prices ranging from $59 to $252 per night.

A search of Airbnb for the same two-night stay produced more than 130 available properties, with prices ranging from $55 per night for an apartment in Howard to $5,000 per night for a five-bedroom house on Green Bay's west side.

Hotel and short-term rental prices do not include taxes and fees. 

The smaller crowd and restrictions on transferring tickets have left area businesses unsure about the level of activity they’ll see this weekend. Game tickets cannot be transferred or resold, which means it’s likely most ticket holders will live within a few hours' drive of Lambeau, meaning less need to book hotel rooms for the weekend. 

“We have no idea if those will be local fans,” said Barbara Myer, general manager of the Hampton Inn Downtown. “Our business isn’t based on local (activity).”

Commercial flights in and out of Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport remain readily available in stark contrast to a year ago when travelers quickly snapped up seats and Airport Director Marty Piette pushed airlines to use bigger jets in the days before the game.  

An Expedia search on Monday found several flights between Los Angeles-area airports and Green Bay for prices starting at $540 plus taxes and fees. 

“They will have plenty of options from a commercial standpoint for getting in and out,” Piette said. “Airlines scaled back last year with COVID, but everyone is still operating. Delta will have three or four flights a day. United and American are running two or three flights, depending on the day.”

Air travelers will find the airport has instituted touch-free check-in and screening procedures, frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces in the airport and requirements for people in the terminal to wear masks. 

“We’re trying to make it as healthy and safe as possible,” Piette said. 

Piette said he’ll also be watching for an uptick in charter and private flights, too, a traditional hallmark of Packers home game weekends.

Piette, like everyone else, remains unsure what to expect from this weekend. But he said the fact the Packers feel comfortable welcoming 6,000 fans this week gives him hope the impact, and number of fans, could grow if there's another home playoff game next weekend. 

“I’m glad the Packers figured out a way to do it right," Piette said. "We’ll just see how it turns out and hopefully we have another game to plan for next week.” 

Contact Jeff Bollier at (920) 431-8387 or jbollier@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GBstreetwise

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