Crunching numbers: Ruggers bring big bucks | AspenTimes.com

Crunching numbers: Ruggers bring big bucks

Charles Agar
Aspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” The hordes of hookers, scrum-halfs, locks, refs and fans who come to Aspen each fall for Ruggerfest are not only well-behaved but a boon to the local economy, according to local businessowners.

Celebrating 40 years in Aspen in 2007, Ruggerfest attracts more than 1,000 players on 29 teams who fill area hotels, restaurants and bars.

In 2006, Ruggerfest generated $126,500 per day and more than $500,000 in retail sales over the weekend, according to a city of Aspen survey.

The event ranks third among September events behind Labor Day weekend, which totaled $1.26 million, and that weekend’s Motherlode volleyball tournament, which generated $538,900.

“They’re definitely good for business,” J-Bar bartender Russell Sayer said of the supersized athletes.

Some teams make camp at J-Bar every year, and Sayer said there are a lot of repeat customers.

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“They bring in a lot of guys … and they like their drink,” Sayer said. “Maybe it’s self-medicating for the pain after the game.”

He called the ruggers “rowdy but behaved,” and said while the groups often get up on tables and do rugby chants, they rarely cause problems.

Jenny Malloy, a waitress at Bentley’s, said: “This is like headquarters for them. They’re in and out all day.”

On Friday night, rugby players and fans filled the bar beyond capacity, and Aspen police had to step in to thin out the crowd, Malloy said.

“They’re kind of like the mature drinkers,” Malloy said of the ruggers. She added they are good tippers, respectful and don’t start fights.

Bentley’s staff jockey for a shift during the lucrative weekend, Malloy said.

Members of the 1968 Kansas City Blues ” the first Ruggerfest champions ” in town this week for a reunion, commandeered an area near the bar Saturday and talked of old times.

“Nobody was coming here this time of year,” said a member of that 1968 side, Frank Mirikitani, of that first Ruggerfest. “The townspeople were happy to have us.”

And while Mirikitani was sad to see The Red Onion, a traditional player’s haunt, closed for renovation, he said he still enjoyed the event.

“It’s a good weekend for us,” said Steve Egbert, front desk manager at the Mountain Chalet, a popular Ruggerfest hotel for its location near the Wagner Park pitch. “It brings a whole different atmosphere.”

His hotel is booked to capacity well in advance, and Egbert said most players are well behaved.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Scott Kirkwood, general manager of the Prospector, said six years ago when he began working at the hotel, Ruggerfest had a bad reputation, and he was forced to charge many players for room damages.

“It was a problem, but since then it’s OK,” Kirkwood said.

And with the Prospector’s rooms, balconies and a bar facing the north end of Wagner Park, the hotel is a popular stop for players, Kirkwood said.

“Next to Christmas, this our highest rack rate,” Kirkwood said.

Despite a smaller turnout this year because many club players opted to go to France to watch 2007 Rugby World Cup matches, Ruggerfest’s director Richard Goulding said it’s been a good showing.

Goulding sent a letter to teams informing them of the long-standing tradition in town, and said there are rarely any problems at the event because players “all want to come back.”

“Most of these guys are friends,” said Tim Francis, a member of the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club. “It’s a huge reunion for everybody.”

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