Without question, the eyes of the world were on Belmont and the city of Nashville as the 2020 presidential candidates met for the final time just 11 days before Election Day in this historic campaign. But beyond the global political implications, this debate brought immensely positive impact to the University, from intensive international media coverage to the indelible education experience given to hundreds of students.

Measuring the Impact

It’s nearly impossible to calculate the tangible and intangible effects of hosting an event of this magnitude. But as with everything Belmont does, the student experience remains the top priority, and the Oct. 22 debate provided first-hand opportunities to witness history as it happened while also giving a glimpse of future career paths. More than 300 students served as Debate volunteers, along with 77 staff and faculty.

Journalism major Marissa Avnaim served with NBC as a production assistant during debate week. The senior has held two other internships this year, both virtual, so she was particularly pleased to be in the midst of the action. “It was amazing to get in-person studio and production experience… The atmosphere working with news media the night of the debate was surreal and has made me even more excited to pursue a career as a reporter.” 

CBSN broadcast of Belmont Debate.
CNN broadcast of the Belmont debate.
A screenshot of Fox News' coverage of the Belmont Debate.
Channel 5 CBS screenshot of Belmont Debate.

For the co-chairs of the Debate Student Engagement Committee, the debate taught skills that will last a lifetime, regardless of where their careers lead. Sophomore, Keidron Turner said, “Helping with the debate during a pandemic has definitely shown me that sometimes life can throw you a curveball you don’t know how to deal with… This experience has taught me that there’s always a way out of difficult circumstances; it simply takes determination and thinking outside of the box!”

Junior Molly Deakins added, “Seeing how this school rallied around the CPD, Nashville and each other to make this happen shows how resilient and wonderful this community is.”

The front of the Curb Event Center at Belmont University

Helping Hands and Businesses

While student opportunities top the list, it’s also gratifying to see the impact on Belmont at large and our hometown of Nashville. According to Nielsen ratings, the debate was seen by 63 million viewers across 15 networks, and over the course of the past year, Belmont received more than 13,200 media hits, bringing $57.6 million in PR value for Belmont and Nashville. This attention also resulted in significant spikes in online interest in the University, with 2.2 million impressions on Belmont’s Facebook page and 64,000 Belmont.edu page views on Oct. 22 alone. 

Though safety considerations limited the amount of media and guests who could come to campus for the debate, the event still brought an economic boost to the city with 2,300 hotel room nights booked for the debate. The 750 media in attendance were also treated to an array of specialty gifts from the campus and local brands thanks to a special promotional gift bag. Better still, hundreds of Nashvillians were put to work from more than 60 printing, event, security, food, hospitality, transportation and technology vendors and companies. As Nashville, always a strong tourist destination, begins its recovery from the pandemic, the 2020 presidential debate will mark a bright spot in an otherwise challenging year.