Most of us, especially hard-core fans, can probably agree on this: There are — at 32 — too many bowl games. Annually, there are about a half dozen teams that literally have to win their bowl game in order to avoid a losing season. A reward for not being that bad.
But as we also know, bowl games are about something else. Always have been. They are, at their core, chambers of commerce showpieces and come-hither visitor ads garbed in gridiron pageantry. They are uniquely positioned as catalysts for sponsors and charities. They engage a community. They’re fun.
And they are economic boosters.
As opposed to some of the fuzzy math that typically surrounds sports events and economic impact, bowl games generally have a more credible case. Out-of-town college football fans, singularly passionate, largely middle-aged sorts who treat bowl games as loyalty rewards, are manna for the hospitality industry. Especially over the holidays when business travel is non-existent.
And while no one can quantify national network publicity for a venue, few would doubt there’s value in a post-card backdrop to a nationally televised event.
Tampa’s Outback Bowl is among the classier bowls, as we were just reminded, even though this year’s game fell shy of a sellout at 60,000 attendees. It showcases the Tampa Bay region on ESPN on New Year’s Day to a national audience. It also generates out-of-town news copy in the week leading up to the game.
The invited teams – from the Big Ten and Southeastern Conferences – invariably “travel well.” Last week it was Wisconsin and Tennessee. The ratings are usually good; economic impact easily into the eight figures.
And regardless of the participants and whatever the football subplots, Tampa Bay wins.