College Football Bowls for Dollars

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

December 9, 2013


No matter what transpired on field on Saturday, bowl host committees can rest easy knowing that college football’s 35 bowl games are right around the corner: spanning 16 days, 16 states, and 1,400 television hours.


What do these games and bowls mean economically to host cities and regions? For starters, over $285 million will flow in payouts to the participating schools and conferences, and total regional economic impact for all of the contests is estimated at well over $1.7 billion.


In Atlanta, Missouri fans are scooping up tickets for Saturday’s SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome between Mizzou and Auburn, with Mizzou’s allotment of 16,000 tickets selling out by 8 a.m. last Sunday. SEC Championship Game tickets are the most expensive of this weekend’s conference title games by a country mile: tickets on StubHub range from $193 to $3,600, while suites are going for $20,000. Data from SeatGeek, further, shows that "an average ticket is selling for around $400."


Auburn fans aren’t the only happy campers in the Southeastern Conference. Another big SEC rivalry game, the Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, will likely have a multimillion dollar impact on Birmingham tourism. Mississippi State’s overtime victory over Ole Miss ensured that Birmingham’s BBVA Compass Bowl will host an SEC team for the fourth time in five years.


And organizers of the Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, NC, as well as broadcaster ABC, are likely taking at least a small measure of comfort that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the likely star of Saturday night’s showdown with Duke, has been cleared of being prosecuted for felony charges stemming from an alleged assault occurring in 2012.


Winston is also the current front runner for the Heisman Trophy. If the Seminoles win on Saturday night, not only will the team likely punch their ticket to the January 6 Vizio BCS National Championship in Pasadena, but Winston will likely be a lock for college football’s highest honor – regardless of what moral qualms some Heisman voters may have around the troubling allegations. (Heisman ballots are due on Monday.)


South of Charlotte, Orlando is more of a golf mecca than football. But that city’s two bowl games, the Russell Athletic Bowl on December 28 and New Year’s Day’s Capital One Bowl, generate up to $80 million each year. Current predictions also have another added bonus as two of the possible teams — Miami and South Carolina — may result in even bigger draws as they are not too far of a travel for fans in those areas.


Championship Saturday on December 7th will not only benefit the host regions, but will also impact the bottom line for conferences and schools. For the conferences who have teams qualifying for the BCS National Championship game, that’s a $22 million payout, as compared to just $18 million for the other BCS bowl games (Orange, Fiesta, Rose, Sugar).


Ohio State, Florida State, and Alabama are almost a lock for a BCS game at the least. Alabama has no more games to play, and it seems unlikely that the currently unbeaten Buckeyes and Seminoles would be banished outside of BCS bowl-dom if they were to slip in their respective conference championship games.


The team that has the most pressure to win this weekend is Missouri. A loss to Auburn in the SEC title game may knock Mizzou out of BCS consideration. If the school does not receive an at-large BCS selection, then the conference’s payday from Mizzou’s non-BCS bowl trip would shrink to $3-4 million if they ended up in, say, the Cotton Bowl or Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Are there too many bowls – and too much money spent on college football in general?


Earlier this week, the NCAA, working with the Knight Commission, released an updated database of collegiate athletic expenditures. Among the findings, the jump in coaching salaries has been a major factor in athletic spending growth rates. Among the five conferences with the largest athletics budgets, median coaching salaries increased by as much as 54% in inflation-adjusted terms from 2005-2011, compared to 24% for all FBS schools combined.


Further, according to the NCAA’s press release on the report, median football spending per scholarship football player at all FBS institutions is expected to rise from $138,424 in 2011 to $212,303 in 2020, based on prior growth rates and controlling for inflation. Comparatively, in the top FBS spending quartile, the 2011 median spending level of $243,900 per scholarship football player is estimated to increase to nearly $400,000 in 2020.


As noted by the Desert News, Oklahoma State, this weekend playing its in-state rival Oklahoma with a Big 12 title on the line, has received over $250 million from T. Boone Pickens over a span of nine years — most of it going to athletic facilities bearing his name.


At Colorado, trying hard to find its footing in the Pac 12 Conference, the university’s Board of Regents on Wednesday unanimously voted to approve the school’s $143 million sports facilities redesign and upgrade plan. The same day, the also struggling University of California-Berkeley signed mobile video game producer Kabam to a 15-year, $18 million deal for field naming rights at its stadium. The agreement carries the highest value among field naming rights in college sports, besting the 25-year, $20 million agreement for the University of Maryland’s Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.


Regarding the proliferation of bowls, while cynics argue that the “niche bowls” serve little “useful purpose” beyond regional economic impact, they ignore that the 35 bowls give 70 schools the opportunity to participate in the post-season at a significant level. Nearly half the Division I teams have the privilege of participating in bowl games, a far greater percentage than the approximately 20% selected in the NCAA championships in other sports (20% in men’s and women’s basketball, 22% in baseball, and 24% in men’s soccer).


Accordingly, get set for a lot of hours on the couch watching college football the rest of this month and into January.

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