The holiday season is packed with college bowl matchups – 34 of them to be exact. There are those, like me, who think the spreading the games out from Dec. 20 to Jan. 8 is a great thing. Always a game to watch. There are others who are more traditional and like the way the bowls used to be, not as many and all packed into two or three days around Jan. 1. Football junkies would set up six different TVs as a tradition on New Year’s Day to catch all the games that were to be played on one day. This more traditional New Year’s Day of six or seven big, meaningful games is on the comeback.
First, college football has exploded in popularity in the past decade. Every team, whether good or bad, believes they should go to some sort of a bowl every year. That’s why we now have 34 of them. And the economy supported such beliefs. If a site could be found to hold a bowl and a sponsor was willing to pay for it, a bowl was created. Look at these names: Papa Johns.com Bowl, Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, Chic-Fil-A Bowl, Capitol One Bowl… you get the idea. Bowl season is a corporate advertising dream and it has gotten out of hand.
With the word “bailout” creating most of the ink in national headlines recently, are corporations in such bad shape that this could be the last year of things like the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl? Can these corporations keep paying huge amounts of money for these advertisements? Even if things take a turn for the better in the next few months, I guarantee the sting of this past year’s economic downward spiral will make some bowl sponsors call it quits next year, or whenever their sponsorship contracts run out. Thirty-four games will move down to 30 or even 25.
The probable loss of corporate sponsorship isn’t the only threat to these bowl games’ existence. How about the fans who travel to all of these amazing cities to watch their kid play or see their alma mater in a rare bowl bid? You think an auto worker family who has a son playing at Rutgers will be traveling down to Legion Field in Alabama this year to watch the game against N.C. State? Probably not.
How about the students of the school? Will mommy and daddy be flipping the bill to send little Johnny and is four buddies down for a long weekend of alcohol-drenched football fun? Probably not.
Case in point: Did anyone catch the ACC Championship Game down in Tampa, Fla. between Boston College and Virginia Tech last weekend? Raymond James Stadium was absolutely empty. Why? Nobody could pay to go to sunny Florida to watch the game – the ACC Championship at that. Of the 53,927 tickets that were to be sold and distributed, according to the Tampa Tribune, only 27,000 actually showed up. On top of that, a good portion of those who did attend didn’t pay for their ticket, as unsold tickets were given to 80 local charities. Additionally, local volunteers for this year’s Super Bowl were contacted and given free tickets.
This game was a better matchup than most of the college bowls this season and I don’t suspect attendance will strengthen at any of the bowls accept for maybe the Sugar, Rose, Cotton, and BCS National Championship. People simply can’t afford to go to these games anymore.
And when attendance drops, cities are going to stop hosting these money-pit games. When times were good and people could afford to take the family on a seven-hour drive to watch their team play in a bowl, they did. Paying for hotels, souvenirs, booze, and hotdogs. Now, paying for the game on cable seems more appropriate.
On top of all of this is the national debate of how the college bowl series is a fluke. How college football never really finds out who is best. Anyone pissed in Texas right now?
The bowls are going to lose support from corporate sponsors. They are going to see lower attendance. The bowls are unpopular. Unless the economy turns for the better, corporate college bowls will soon be going the way of the dodo.
The good old days of the Cotton, Rose, Orange, and Sugar bowls are coming to six or seven TV screens in your home soon. It’s time to dust ’em off.