As a diehard Tennessee football fan, Bill Schmidt made a point of returning to Knoxville from his homes in Chicago and California for game weekends at least once a season. His job—as Gatorade's longtime head of sports marketing—meant he was able to attend most of the bowl games the Volunteers played in as well. But five years ago, back in town for a Florida-Tennessee game, he had a revelation.
Schmidt had been looking for a change of pace—a resting point of sorts, and a chance to refocus his life on the things that mattered. Driving past a Knoxville home under construction, it struck him—"Why not Knoxville?" After all, the cost of living was low, the winters mild, friends visited town often, and the university provided all manner of cultural and intellectual stimulation. He bought the house that day.
Since then, the 58-year-old Schmidt has begun a new chapter of his life. As an adjunct professor in the university's sports management program, he makes a fraction of his former salary, but he appreciates the opportunity to "give back." He also helps out the athletic department with strategic planning issues—and, of course, he never misses a game.
Across the country, retirees are flocking to college towns like Athens, Ga., and Columbia, Mo., for many of the same reasons as Schmidt (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/26/04, "Big Seniors on Campus"). And while proximity to college sporting events isn't the primary draw for the majority of college-town retirees, it is a definite perk for many.
The Village at Penn State retirement community is backed in part by the Nittany Lions' longtime head coach, Joe Paterno, and the complex overlooks the Lions' home field, Beaver Stadium—both key selling points for the community, says Director of Community Relations Jill Lillie. (The apartments with a front-facing view of the stadium were the first to sell.) Penn State sets aside a block of tickets specifically for Village residents to purchase, and Lillie estimates at least 50% of the community's 200-some residents attend the games or watch them on the lounge's big-screen TV.
David Dean, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Anchor in South Bend, Ind., says he sees a lot of people who buy specifically because Notre Dame is located nearby. A few years ago, he sold a house to a retiring couple who had no connection to the university except that they had followed Notre Dame football games on TV and thought South Bend seemed like "a nice, all-American town."
Sports fans have already proven to be a lucrative niche within the second-home market. Developer Gameday Centers Southeastern has built "luxury sports condos" near the football stadiums at Auburn University, the University of Alabama, and the University of Georgia, with prices ranging from $150,000 to just over $1 million. Similar complexes are in the works near the campuses of 15 other universities, including Texas and Tennessee.
Halfway to the Rest Home
The condos have been a hit among football fans looking to avoid the hassle and expense of renting hotel rooms during crowded game-day weekends, but Gary Spillers, president and CEO of Gameday, says people who buy the condos end up spending much more time in them than anticipated—on average, 30 to 60 days a year. Many of them, he says, are alums who end up rekindling their relationships with their schools through alumni associations, booster clubs, or continuing education classes.
Males age 50-59 already make up a greater proportion of college football fans than any other team sport, according to Connecticut-based sports marketing firm Octagon—about 41% of them either attended or watched a college football game on TV in the past year.
"I often joke that we're the halfway house between their home and the retirement home," Spillers says. And as those condo-buying baby boomers begin to hit retirement age—the average age of a Gameday Centers condo owner is 57.2—more of them might find that those college towns are great places to live all year round, not just during football season.
Check out our slide show of 10 college towns with affordable housing and great football.
Click here for a roundup of the most affordable college towns by conference in Division I.