The Business Report recently had the opportunity to speak with longtime local sportswriter, Pat Dooley, to ask for his thoughts on the upcoming football season, how Gator sports affect our local economy, and how writing about college sports has changed over the years.
TBR: As someone who has been actively writing about Gator sports for decades, what are the aspects that have changed most about our city, our university, or sports, in general, that have influenced your approach to writing about them?
Dooley: Like most cities, ours has changed so much because of technology and I see it affecting the attendance at different sporting events by young fans. Everyone faces a challenge of trying to figure out a way to get people to games when it’s so much easier to watch at home.
Relationships with the athletes are the biggest things that have changed. These athletes don’t read newspapers anymore and many of them see us as a necessary evil. I told someone the other day I’m happy that I’m near the end of my career rather than the beginning. Sports writing has turned into speculation and made-up stories. We won’t change our methodology for getting news because we believe it’s the right way. But we do end up putting out a lot of fires.
TBR: Gator sports are obviously a powerful force in our local economy – how would you describe the impact they have currently?
Dooley: One thing I have learned is how much UF sports, especially football, means to the community financially. That was especially evident last year. I have many friends in the restaurant business and I see what a lost home game can mean. That’s one reason I took a hard stand against moving the game to Baton Rouge.
The more championships you win, the more the impact. It’s ticket sales, contributions, licensing and student body interest. And Florida has been as good as anybody in winning rings while I have been covering the Gators.
TBR: As you just mentioned, last year many businesses saw percentage losses compared with their projections as a result of the loss of Gator football home games. How do you think this year’s schedule, with the additional home games, will affect both the team and local businesses?
Dooley: It is going to be huge and, on the other hand, LSU’s gamble is going to backfire this year with an awful home schedule. Still, in Gainesville, a lot depends on the game times. Noon games are killers because people go home. Night games aren’t as bad, but you don’t get the after parties. Businesses here are rooting for a lot of 3:30 games. But a lot of that is up to how the team plays.
TBR: Do you have an opinion on the changing tide of recruitment? How do you think changes in recruitment practices are affecting college sports and college towns?
Dooley: Well, I think Florida is in good hands with athletic director Scott Stricklin because he gets this basic truth — bells and whistles don’t win you anything but they matter to recruits. Kids who say it’s about their education are almost always telling a major fib. They want to go to the coolest place with chocolate waterfalls and bowling alleys in their dorm rooms. It’s just the way it is and it’s only going to escalate.
TBR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Dooley: I am fortunate to have spent 30 years at the Gainesville Sun and I’m very fortunate to live in a community that has been so loving and generous.
Pat Dooley has been a sports columnist at the Gainesville Sun since 1987.