WHEELING, W.Va. — Officials in the City of Wheeling have added the cancelation of the Super Six football championships to the growing list of the economic blows the area has been dealt due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The high school football state championship games that had been in Wheeling for 27 straight years was first moved out of Wheeling by the WVSSAC due to growing virus numbers in the county and then ultimately canceled in 2020.
Frank O’Brien, Executive Director, Wheeling/Ohio County Convention & Visitors Bureau said the annual event to the Wheeling area generated around $1 million in revenue during the first weekend of December. He told MetroNews he understood the decisions made.
“If it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. Regardless of the positive or negative economic impact. We can make it up somewhere down the road as we return to normal,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien estimated around 30,000-40,000 people travel to the area every year to take in the games, although before the event was moved officials were bracing for limited capacity crowds because of the virus.
He said the biggest impacts will be the businesses in downtown Wheeling and on Wheeling Island with the location of Wheeling Island Stadium. O’Brien also said the Highlands Complex along Interstate-70 in Ohio County will also lose out on revenue.
“Whenever you have several thousand people in your community, they spend money on hotels, restaurants, retail. They’ll go to Cabela’s, different types of drug stores and gas stations. It’s a positive economic impact,” O’Brien said.
“So for us to lose that, that’s going to hurt.”
O’Brien and Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott both confirmed that the WVSSAC is adding an additional year on to Wheeling’s contract to host the games, not penalizing the city for the missed 2020 opportunity. The city is set to host the event in 2021, 2022, and 2023.
“It’s truly been hard to quantify the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the city of Wheeling. It certainly hurts in the tourism side,” Elliott told MetroNews.
“Losing the Super Six is an additional blow.”
Elliott said other dents to the city’s economic outlook is the lost season of the West Virginia RoughRiders indoor football team, the Wheeling Symphony canceling shows and anything held at Wheeling Heritage Port.
“We really hope going forward in 2021 that the economy opens back up. All the events that we come to rely on and make Wheeling what it is, seeing them open their doors back up to crowds and large attendance,” Elliott said.
According to O’Brien, between 60 and 70 events were canceled at the Wheeling Heritage Port in 2020 including the Blues Festival and Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival, equaling around 350,000 people that did not come to downtown Wheeling that normally would.
“This was another major, traditional event that has been held in Wheeling for many, many years that had to be canceled because of this virus,” O’Brien said of Super Six.
He added there are a few silver linings to the city’s tourism/economic year and it includes the Wheeling Nailers coming back to action this month inside WesBanco Arena with limited fans and Oglebay’s Festival of Lights seeing record numbers due to it being a drive-thru event.
O’Brien said the city will be in recovery mode for a long time after the blows dealt by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The tourism industry was the first negatively impacted industry from this virus and I also think it will be one of the last to recover,” he said.
“But we are in recovery mode and when people feel more comfortable, once the vaccine is widely distributed, I think people will start to venture out again.”