- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

What the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl lacks in college football tradition, it makes up for in dollars: The game’s economic impact is as great as its glamour is small and its name is unwieldy.

Bowl organizers say the San Diego economy will have taken in more than $20 million from the inaugural game, a 51-30 victory by Navy over Colorado State on Dec. 22. Much of that money came from fans of the Midshipmen, who have a reputation for traveling anywhere to see their team, filling up hotel rooms and spending cash while in town.

“It’s all new money,” said Bruce Binkowski, executive director of the Poinsettia Bowl and the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, also held in San Diego. “And it can be a significant thing for the community if we can get people to stay for two or three days.”

The Poinsettia Bowl is merely a case in point. Fans spend late December and early January waving their school colors, but green arguably is the most important color of all at college football’s 28 bowl games:

• The bowls grossed more than $1.1 billion for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the past five years.

• Cities that play host to the games report tens of millions of dollars — hundreds of millions, in a few cases — each year in economic influence from the players and fans who travel to the games, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and spend money.

• Schools and conferences, including those who do not participate in the games, receive a combined $200 million each year from the bowls.

“Fans of college football, particularly those who are spending a lot of their dollars, see things less as fans and more as investors,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at Oregon State University. “It does beg the question: What point do we damage what was a tradition-based event? I think you can have the best of both worlds.”

BCS spells big money

The cash cow of the bowl season are the four games of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which showcase the top two teams in the national championship game as well as the other major conference champions.

Those four bowls — the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Rose Bowl, Nokia Sugar Bowl and FedEx Orange Bowl — are expected to generate $96.2 million in revenue this year.

That money is a windfall for the member schools and conferences of the NCAA. Smaller conferences such as the Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Western Athletic and Conference USA will split $5.6 million. About $1.8 million also will go to Division I-AA conferences.

The Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls will pay between $14.5 million and $15 million to each team participating in its game. That money is divided up among each bowl team, its conference and the conference’s other member schools. The Rose Bowl will pay each of its participating teams, Texas and the University of Southern California, $15 million under a separate contractual agreement.

But while the amount of revenue brought in by college bowl games has risen dramatically in recent years, an increasing percentage of that money has been kept by bowl organizers, rather than the teams and conferences.

Last year, teams and conferences retained $186.3 million, the largest amount in history. But it was 73.6 percent of the total gross receipts, down from more than 80 percent two years earlier.

In addition, the expense of participating in a bowl game can sometimes top the payout, particularly for teams playing in lower-tier games. Notre Dame, for instance, lost more than $800,000 by participating in the Insight Bowl in Arizona last year, according to NCAA figures. Bowl games in Hawaii often are money-losers for teams, largely because of the expense of flying players, coaches, cheerleaders and band members.

For non-BCS games last year, the 48 teams involved were paid $19.5 million more than they spent, an average of about $400,000 per team.

The role of TV

This season’s bowl games are expected to generate more than $90 million in ticket sales, but television is an equally important economic driver.

ABC is in the final year of an eight-year, $550 million contract to broadcast all four BCS games. An eight-year, $300 million contract to broadcast the Rose Bowl on ABC will begin next season, and Fox last year signed a six-year, $320 million deal to broadcast the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls from 2007 to 2010.

ESPN will broadcast 20 bowl games this season — it paid from $100,000 to more than $8 million for the rights to each — culminating with the Outback Bowl between Iowa and Florida tomorrow. The network also owns the Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl, Sheraton Hawaii Bowl and Fort Worth Bowl.

In recent years, the network marketed all of its bowl games as a single, weeklong event, dubbing it “Bowl Week” and even luring a corporate sponsor in Capital One.

ABC Sports and ESPN touted their regular-season coverage as the most successful in years. ABC averaged 4.5 million households per game, a 7 percent increase over the past year. ESPN reported its most-watched season since 1999, averaging 1.7 million households for a 4 percent increase over 2004.

“We’re looking to just build on the momentum we had during the regular season,” said Dave Brown, ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisitions. “It’s really tailor-made. Fans can take some time off, and what’s better than four straight nights of college football?”

But others take a more cynical view.

“You have to justify the existence of these games,” said Dan Migala, editor of the Migala Report, a sports marketing publication in Chicago. “It’s hard for them to find an audience, and the truth about these bowls is that it gives people something to watch when there’s nothing else on.”

No schedule conflicts

No matter the reason, it is clear that television plays a big role in determining when games are played. On ESPN, every bowl game has its own stage: No two games are played at the same time. And games once played on New Year’s Day — traditionally college football’s most prestigious day — have in the past decade been moved to prime-time weekday slots on Jan. 2, 3 or 4.

“You have the stage to yourself, as opposed to January 1, which is a football overload kind of day,” said David Carter, director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. “There’s not much lost in terms of cachet.”

The amount of television money attached to bowls is a key reason the NCAA and its member schools have resisted scrapping the BCS system in favor of a tournament-style playoff, despite overwhelming fan support for such a setup.

The NCAA and bowl organizers fear that bowls not included in a playoff system would lose relevance and financial support.

“Much of the money that makes bowl games economically viable comes from television and sponsorships,” said Big 10 Commissioner James Delaney during recent testimony before Congress on the BCS issue. “A multigame, NFL-style playoff is likely to siphon off the vast bulk, if not the totality, of the television and sponsorship dollars that are now supporting the bowl system as the media and fan attention is drawn away from the bowls and focused squarely on the playoff games.”

Instead, bowl officials likely will add a fifth BCS game beginning next season. It is not clear which bowl would be added to the BCS slate, but several midtier bowls already are jockeying for the position. For example, the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl in December agreed to change its name to the Chick Fil-A Bowl, thus increasing the value of its sponsorship to $22 million over five years, up from $9 million over three years, according to published reports.

Welcome the hordes

Other than the teams involved, no one gets more excited about bowl games than the economic development officials in the host cities. With thousands of players, coaches, band members and fans flocking to a city, communities anticipate heavy activity — and spending — at hotels, restaurants and stores.

By this measure, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., is the crown jewel of bowl games. The game, coupled with the popular Tournament of Roses Parade, is expected to produce about $400 million in direct and indirect economic influence on the region, according to bowl organizers and the city.

Pasadena expects to gain additional benefit this year from some new scheduling. Traditionally, the Rose Bowl festivities include a large New Year’s Eve celebration followed by the parade and game on New Year’s Day. The parade will take place on Jan. 2 this year because traditionally it can’t be on a Sunday, and the game will be played on Jan. 4. The result is five straight days of Rose-related grandeur.

Similarly, the Orange Bowl in Miami stages several events other than the game, including a regatta, golf and basketball tournaments, a 5K race and a beach party. Last year’s Orange Bowl, in which USC beat Oklahoma for the national championship, netted nearly $200 million for the South Florida community.

“The Orange Bowl really has it honed,” said Kathleen Davis, executive director of the Sport Management Research Institute in Weston, Fla., which studied the economic influence of the game. “They have so many spinoff events. You bring in a lot of other folks, and it elongates the opportunity for economic development.”

Other cities report similar results.

Officials in Scottsdale, Ariz., expect a $24 million boost from the Fiesta and Insight bowls as the result of an exclusive contract to house teams and alumni for both games. Fiesta Bowl organizers project $200 million in total impact on Phoenix, Tempe and the surrounding towns.

Officials in the Scottsdale and Phoenix area say they are thrilled about this year’s game between Notre Dame and Ohio State because fans of those schools will travel long distances to see their teams.

“Fiesta Bowl organizers certainly understand this game is based on hospitality,” said Brent DeRaad, vice president of marketing for the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They work with us in the tourism community and often ask us about matchups and are cognizant of what teams travel well.”

Even smaller bowls are big business. San Antonio, for example, expects $20 million direct revenue from the Alamo Bowl.

“We’re a tourist city, and when you can bring 30,000 people to town at what would be one of the slowest weeks of the year, it is very significant,” said Derrick Fox, the Alamo Bowl’s executive director.

In San Diego, the Poinsettia Bowl was created largely because of the success of the Holiday Bowl, which last year brought $38.2 million to the city, including $19.8 million from visitor spending alone. Spectators and participants were responsible for the rental of 36,400 hotel rooms, adding $468,195 in taxes to the city’s coffers.

The bowl itself netted San Diego about $450,000 in concession royalties, parking fees and stadium rent.

“That bowl is a highly regarded bowl,” said Mr. Carter, of the Sports Business Institute. “San Diego is great place for a holiday weekend.”

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