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College Football Goes Bowling: Is It Rolling a Strike or a Gutterball?


By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

December 8, 2011

One week after this Saturday’s Heisman Trophy Award ceremony, college football’s bowl season begins--spanning 24 days, 35 games, 70 teams, 16 states, over $281 million in payouts to participating schools and conferences, and, across the U.S., regional economic impacts comprising over $1.7 billion.

Long gone are the eras of the regional Peach Bowl, the Liberty, the quaint Bluebonnet.  In 2011, every single one of the 35 bowl games has a title or presenting sponsor attached-–with 11 games claiming only the name of their sponsor company as the event title.  From the ridiculous (Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, Belk, Beef O’Brady’s St. Petersburg) to the sublime (Bridgepoint Education Holiday, Insight, Kraft Fight Hunger), the bowl games and the corporate representation behind them represent the New Era (Pinstripe) of the college football juggernaut, and of the oft-debated Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

Or, as University of Oregon head coach put it after winning the Pac-12 football championship last weekend, “We’re just so excited to represent this university in the Rose Bowl.  Now we’re going to drink some Dr Pepper and mail our Christmas presents with UPS."

After a scandal-ridden season, led by contemptible allegations at the University of Miami, Penn State, and Syracuse (albeit in that school’s basketball program), it will be good to sit back and take in traditions old and new--and be sure to enjoy them now, because this year’s near-constant conference realignments are gonna mess with tradition in a big way come 2012.

This year’s bowl season, however, is not without controversy.  Here’s a blow-by-blow analysis.


Are there too many bowls?

Maybe.  Cynics argue that the “niche bowls” serve little useful purpose, and that bowl participation is a cash drain on all involved schools.  They ignore the big picture in four ways:

First, the 35 bowls produce 70 schools with an opportunity to participate in the post-season at a significant level.  Overall, nearly half the Division I teams have the privilege of participating in post-season bowl games, a far greater percentage than the roughly 20% selected in the NCAA championships in other sports (22% in baseball; 20% in men’s and women’s basketball; and 24% in men’s soccer). 

Second, where TV is concerned, adult bowl game viewers largely comprise that most coveted demographic: college-educated viewers age 18-49.  Given this, get set for over 1,400 hours of bowl coverage this year.

Third, Corporate America loves the exposure, and bowl titles potentially offer an efficient, effective buy.  The last time the national championship was played in Arizona, naming right holder Tostitos enjoyed nearly $76.6 million worth of exposure.  “What’s really neat about the college space is that you don’t have to be a big multinational brand to get in…our affiliation around the sport, starting with the Chik-fil-A bowl, helps build on-campus and beyond relationships, “ Steve Robinson, Chik-fil-A Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, remarked at this week’s IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York.

Fourth and finally, the economic impact for the host region is significant--such as the regional economic impacts comprising over $1.7 billion cited earlier.


How did we get to where we are?

This year’s Louisiana State-Alabama BCS selection resulted in the slimmest mathematical difference in the history of the eight years that the current formula has been employed--86-thousandths of a point (including numbers from two polls and six computer rankings).  We think we have controversy now:  the national championship vote was split between coaches and writers 11 times since they began voting in 1954. 

 

What is the “mediocrity index” of this year’s bowl games?

The 35 bowls and 70 teams inspire mediocrity of the highest level.  This year’s 70 teams have 273 total losses between them (compared to 257 last year).  This includes 12 teams who were 6-6 this year.  In fact, while 70 teams will play in bowls, only 45 Division One teams were not bowl eligible.  UCLA will play in the Kraft Foods Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve with a 6-7 record.  Previously, three teams have gone to bowls with losing records – 5-6 Troy State in 2001; 5-6 William & Mary in 1970; and 4-6 SMU in 1963.

 

What about corporate involvement?

Meineke transferred their sponsorship from the game in Charlotte to the Texas Bowl.  Belk Department Stores took over Meineke’s title sponsorship in Charlotte.  The Idaho Potato Commission took over uDrove’s sponsorship of the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, and renamed the game the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

In New Mexico, Montreal-based Gildan, a clothing manufacturer, bought the title sponsorship to the New Mexico Bowl.  The Gator Bowl in Jacksonville last year added Progressive Insurance as title sponsor in the weeks leading up to the game.  This year, the Gator Bowl has TaxSlayer.com as its naming partner.

Naming Rights Industry Breakdown

 

Consumer Goods

9

Financial Services

8

Restaurants

4

Auto

3

Aerospace/Defense

2


How do the bowls help regional tourism?

Overall, 16 states (including the District of Columbia) are directly financially involved in supporting their bowls, understanding that over $1.75 billion in economic impact is generated by the respective regions.  Florida and Texas lead the way with six each; California and Louisiana have four; Alabama, Arizona, and Tennessee have two; New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Michigan, Hawaii, District of Columbia, and Georgia have one each.

Regional bowl committees have refined the art of promoting and marketing the national championship game with their overall weekends.  In New Orleans, the bowl season actually kicks off with the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on December 17, allowing 24 days of events, hospitality, and promotion between that game and the January 9 National Championship.

Clearly, the impact has increased as the “plus one” system has been installed.


How do the conferences and schools fare this year?

Very well.  Overall, the 35 bowls pay a total of over $281 million to conferences (who distribute the revenues based on their own individual formulas).  This compares to approximately $261.7 million last year.  As for the BCS game, their payouts approximate $181 million, up significantly from the $142 million last year.


2011 Heisman Trophy – One Honey of a Race

The Heisman Trophy will be awarded Saturday night for the 77th time.  The two frontrunners for the coveted trophy are Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, favored by speculative sportswriters (ahead of fellow finalists Trent Richardson, Montee Ball, and Tyrann Mathieu, LSU’s defensive “Honey Badger”).

Luck is the only repeat finalist in this year’s field, and is hoping to become Stanford’s second Heisman winner, joining quarterback Jim Plunkett, a winner in 1970.  The Honey Badger, a cornerback, is the second defensive player to ascend to Heisman finalist in the past three years--Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finished fourth in 2009, before stomping his way into the NFL.

Stiffarmtrophy.com, which compiles ballots from Heisman voters who make their choices public and has predicted the past nine winners, has Griffin winning by a comfortable margin over Luck, and Richardson third.

Heismanpundit.com, which has successfully predicted the past four Heisman winners via a straw poll of 13 voters, had Griffin as its top pick on Monday; Luck was second, Richardson third.

Ballots from the 926 voters, comprising former winners and the media, were due Monday evening.

Whoever wins the award joins college football’s most exclusive fraternity--with the Heisman comes a lifetime of marketability and endorsement opportunities, which is good for some winners who have fizzled in the NFL.

One notable example is former Oklahoma QB Jason White, who owns and operates A Store Divided, an OU/OSU memorabilia store with several locations across the state.  As for Heisman winners that have gone on to the NFL, seven of the last ten were first round draft picks.  Former USC QB Carson Palmer has the biggest contract of any former Heisman winner, a nine-year, $119 million deal he signed with Cincinnati back in 2005.

Here’s a look at the NFL fortunes (or lack thereof) of the last five Heisman Trophy winners:

 

Year         Player                    School                      Drafted By        Pos.     Deal

2010      Cam Newton,      Auburn, QB           Carolina          #1           4 yr, $22m guaranteed

2009      Mark Ingram, Jr.  Alabama, RB         New Orleans    #28         4 yr (3 guar), $7.41m, $3.89m bonus

2008      Sam Bradford     Oklahoma, QB       St. Louis          #1           6 yr, $78m, $50m guaranteed

2007      Tim Tebow          Florida, QB            Denver            #25         5 yr, $11.25m, $8.7m guaranteed

2006      Troy Smith          Ohio State, QB      Baltimore           5th rnd   3 yr, then 1 yr, $1.101m*

                *Smith was released by the Ravens in 2010, signed with the 49ers for 1 season, and now plays in the UFL

 

Left out in the cold outside New York’s Downtown Athletic Club this year were a handful of other outstanding players, most notably USC quarterback Matt Barkley, Houston record-breaker Case Keenum, and Boise State play caller Kellen Moore.  The three are now focused on their own decisions surrounding the NFL draft – and still look to make out like bandits. 

Or, honey badgers.




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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
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Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
$19.95

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