When the Brigham Young Cougars left the Mountain West Conference to become a college football independent finding good bowl partnerships was identified as one of the four major risks that BYU was taking. BYU's athletic director Tom Holmoe quickly secured three agreements with smaller bowl games for the Cougars' first three years of independence. Under the conditions, many fans were satisfied, but they expected that BYU would be able to ink some deals with bigger bowls starting with the 2014 season.
One by one, the bigger bowls are locking up their futures for the next six years. The deals being made are between the bowls and two of the Big 5 conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big XII, ACC, and Pac-12). Sitting back and watching this happen has many of those same satisfied BYU fans squirming in their seats. Holmoe, on the other hand, isn't sitting back and watching.
In the nearly three years since the announcement that BYU would be a college football independent, Holmoe has demonstrated that he is working as hard as one human being can be expected to work for the betterment of the football program. However, he cannot do it all by himself. The football team has a job: win football games. The fans also have a job, especially when it comes to bowl games.
Fans are not innocent by-standards in all of this. In fact, the fans might have more control than Holmoe when it comes to BYU getting better bowl deals.
In another life, I worked for Miami-Dade County, Florida. One of my job responsibilities was to attend the Board of County Commissioners meetings. Once or twice a year, the Orange Bowl Committee would come before the commissioners and deliver a sales pitch for support from local government. The central point of their sales pitch was always the economic impact the Orange Bowl had on the local economy.
The economic impact is the amount of money brought into the community as a result of that game being played. It could be the money spent on the tickets for the game, the hotel room, the taxi cab, the meals eaten at restaurants, the souvenirs bought, or any other expense that caused money to be spent that would not otherwise been spent in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region.
Tourism is the number one industry in Miami. It could have been that the Orange Bowl made such a big deal over the economic impact because it is a tourist town. To get a better feel for how important economic impact is for other bowl games, I reached out to the Armed Forces Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl--the last two bowls to invite BYU--and spoke with each bowl's executive director.
When asked, on a scale of 1-10, how important economic impact was, both said it was high on the scale.
Mr. Brant Ringler, Executive Director, Armed Forces Bowl, said, "I'd say it's up there on the upper end of the scale. We started this bowl game for the city of Fort Worth. That was part of the thought process to make sure there would be a nice economic return for our city and for the businesses and everybody that supports our event. I would say it is one of the more important factors that we try to make sure occurs."
Mr. Bruce Binkowski, Executive Director, Poinsettia Bowl, said, "Ten. A good economic impact is really important. ... Economic impact is extremely important not only to our bowl game, but to every bowl game."
While both bowls agree about the importance of having a strong economic impact in the end, they also agree that other factors are important.
Mr. Ringler pointed out that the bowl game was an event, and that the fan experience, TV ratings, and matching two balanced teams were also important.
"We try to match up two teams that are equal as best as possible," Mr. Ringler said.
Mr.Binkowski explained, "We don't pick teams just because of their economic impact. We pick teams that we think are most deserving of being in a bowl game. ... If a team is 6-6 and we know they are going to bring more people, but the team over there is 9-3 and we could take them too, and they aren't going to bring as many people our philosophy is we'll take the 9-3 because they deserve it more."
While economic impact isn't the be all end all of bowl partnerships, did these bowls see a bump in the economic impact the years that the Cougars came?
"We were in a transition phase," Mr. Ringler explained. "We had some of our events in Ft. Worth where the hotels were, but TCU's stadium was being renovated. We had the game in Dallas. It was really hard. We didn't even do an economic impact study because there was no way of finding that out. Fans stayed on both sides of town. It was really hard to calculate that number. We feel like it was good overall because BYU traveled well and Tulsa traveled well, too."
Mr. Binkowski noted the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl had an economic impact of $7.8 million, including 9,213 hotel room nights. These numbers were a bit lower than previous years. Mr. Binkowski attributed that to BYU's opponent being the hometown San Diego State Aztecs.
Both directors had positive remarks about BYU's bowl future.
Mr. Ringler said, "In BYU's case, I think they have a great fan following. I think they have a great fan following in the Texas marketplace. I think they have a good reputation out in the bowl world. I think they are desirable for a lot of bowls to look at because they can cut their own deals."
Mr. Binkowski said, "The Poinsettia Bowl would like BYU at least twice. That is our goal to get them to come to San Diego at least twice over the next six years (2014-19). ... Bowls know the value of having Brigham Young in a bowl game, and I'm sure bowls are figuring out how they can get them."
Well, there you have it. BYU could be playing in the Poinsettia Bowl on a regular one out of three basis. With all due respect to Mr. Binkowski, the Poinsettia Bowl, and the San Diego community, something tells me not many BYU fans will be very excited about this proposition. If that is true, don't just sit there. You can do something about it. When asked what fans could do to help provide Holmoe some negotiating power these are the responses I received.
Mr. Binkowski advised fans who wanted to see BYU's bowl tie ins improve to "have a great reputation of supporting their team wherever they go. If fans continue to support their team as best they can wherever their bowl games are. That is the important thing."
Mr. Ringler said, "It is not something that you do in just one year. It takes place over time. It is showing up at those bowl games no matter what the team's record is. No matter what the date of teh bowl game occurs. it is being consistent and building a reputation of being one of those teams that travels every year."
Personally, I was disappointed to see that only 35,442 people attended the Poinsettia Bowl this year. In the 1980s and 90s, the Holiday Bowls BYU attended regularly drew between 50,000 and 60,000 people. BYU's opponent was the hometown team. The last time BYU played in San Diego was during the 2009 regular season. The attendance at that game was over 30,000.
BYU was 7-5 during the regular season. Not exciting for a fan base that expects double digit wins every year. If you let that keep you from attending the bowl game--any bowl game--then you shouldn't be upset with wherever the Cougars go bowling.
Mr. Binkowski said the Poinsettia bowl was pleased with the game attendance because it matched what the bowl had budgeted for attendance. But, why should BYU and its fans accept that? Why not deliver way above and beyond what these bowls are expecting, even when BYU has had a mediocre season?
That is what it is going to take for BYU to get better bowl tie ins. Mr. Binkowski also explained that the better pick a bowl gets from a conference, then the conference will expect to have one of its teams represented. For example, the Holiday Bowl picks second from the Pac-12 after BCS picks are made. With such a high selection, they will not be pleased if one year no Pac-12 member is invited in favor of BYU.
The economic impact, Mr. Binkowski informed me, for the Holiday Bowl is usually between $20-23 million. That is a big step up from $7.8 million. Unless BYU fans start spending a little more and travelling a lot more for bowl games, then the larger bowls won't find a compelling reason bend over backwards to get BYU.
This is what Holmoe has to deal with as he tries to secure bowl--economic impact, game attendance. For the most part, those two factors are out of his control.
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