SM PIER — It may have been a down year for tourism in Santa Monica, but at least it’s going to end with a bang.
Both college football teams playing in the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day — Ohio State and the University of Oregon — have decided to hold their pre-game pep rallies in Santa Monica, providing a needed boost to the city’s tourist economy.
The rallies, to be held Dec. 30 and 31 next to the Santa Monica Pier, are expected to draw some 40,000 fans. The rallies will feature marching band performances, speakers and big screens playing highlights from the teams’ seasons. Both rallies will be in the parking lot north of the pier where the Cirque du Soleil tent is now stationed. Cirque ends its run Dec. 20.
“For us, this is a tremendous way to end 2009,” said Ben Franz-Knight, the executive director of the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp., which is responsible for promoting the landmark. “For many folks this has been a tough year.”
Franz-Knight estimated businesses on the pier will see at least a 30 percent bump in sales during the two-day period.
Traditionally, Santa Monica competes for Rose Bowl pep rallies with other L.A.-area tourist centers like Universal City Walk, Pasadena and L.A. Live, Franz-Knight said. Santa Monica has hosted rallies before, but this is the first year both Rose Bowl teams are coming to town.
“We’re thrilled. To get two of them is amazing,” said Alison Best, vice president of sales and services with the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The CVB partnered with Franz-Knight to make Santa Monica’s pitch for the rallies at a tour operator convention in April, Best said.
“I think we have an iconic venue in the pier and the beach and I think when you’re coming from Ohio or Oregon it’s a draw to be [among] palm trees, life guard stations, [and an] open beach environment rather than a downtown environment or a high school field, which really could be anywhere,” Best said.
The rallies will be held next to the beach, but the economic benefits will have a further reach, Best said, benefiting restaurants and bars, among other businesses.
“I think there’ll be a significant spike in [hotel] occupancy due to securing the pep rallies and having the relationship with the tour operators,” she said.
The pep rallies are put on by the alumni associations from the schools. The University of Oregon event will be held on Dec. 30 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Ohio State’s event is on Dec. 31 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Franz-Knight said bringing both rallies to the same venue on consecutive days allowed the schools to benefit from economies of scale that cut down on some logistical costs.
Jay Hansen, a spokesman for the Ohio State University Alumni Association, said when his group is looking for a pep rally location it generally favors “something that’s kind of representative of the bowl game that we’re going to.”
“When you think of California, people in the Midwest really think of the beach,” he said.