ANNAPOLIS — Military Bowl organizers announced Monday that the game will move this year from Washington's RFK Stadium to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, placing the sixth annual game in a setting designed to honor service members about 30 miles from the nation's capital.
Steve Beck, DC Bowl Committee president and executive director, said the Maryland venue, which includes a decommissioned Navy airplane outside its gates, is the perfect setting to reflect the bowl's mission of supporting the nation's military. The stadium, home for Navy's football team and near the U.S. Naval Academy, also includes arches that tell the stories of battles fought by the Navy or Marine Corps.
"Those who attend will find Memorial Stadium to be historic, fan friendly, and designed to promote a wonderful family environment," said Chet Gladchuck, the academy's director of athletics.
The Dec. 27 game, which is sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corp., will benefit the USO. The move was first reported by The Capital of Annapolis.
Northrop Grumman is the largest employer in Anne Arundel County, where the state capital and the Army's Fort Meade also are located.
Beck said the bowl game could get a boost from the stadium's Navy ties.
"Navy has a season ticket base that we hope will generate some activity from their season ticket and booster mailing list," Beck said in an interview Monday.
The Military Bowl's average attendance has been about 27,000. Last season, San Jose State and Bowling Green drew only 17,835. Navy-Marine Corp Stadium was renovated in 2004 and holds 34,000. RFK Stadium, which was home to the NFL's Washington Redskins from 1961 until the team moved to what is now FedExField in 1997, seats more than 50,000 for football.
Navy plays home games in Annapolis, though the annual Army-Navy matchup has been played at pro football stadiums in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.
This year's Military Bowl will feature a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference and an opponent from Conference USA. It will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. It will be the first bowl game ever played at the Annapolis stadium, which opened in 1959.
Erik Moses, who runs RFK Stadium for Events DC, the city's convention and sports authority, said the sparse crowds for some of the games at 52-year-old RFK could be attributed to matchups that generated little local interest.
"Nobody's ever happy about small crowds," Moses said. "The crowd size is determined by the teams."
Moses said he wasn't sure what kind of financial hit the city would take by no longer hosting the game, but he noted that all of the other events associated with the bowl will still take place in Washington. The teams will also continue to stay in hotels in the nation's capital.
The bowl generated an economic impact of $36 million between 2009 and 2011, according to Events DC's internal data. That figure includes hotel room stays and other factors.
Connie Del Signore, president and CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau, said the national broadcast on ESPN will highlight Maryland's historic and picturesque state capital.
"It's great exposure for future business for those people who don't know Annapolis," said Del Signore, who noted the visitors bureau is planning a marketing campaign to coincide with the game to point out nearby tourism opportunities.
Local businesses also stand to benefit in the waterfront city of about 39,000 people.
"Anytime something like that comes into town, it's going to help businesses," said Carey Arason, manager of Chick and Ruth's Delly on Main Street in downtown Annapolis.