Why the Big Bowl Games Are Big Business

Washington DC official discusses economic impact the Military Bowl could have on the city

Coach Ruffin McNeill of the East Carolina University Pirates

The University of Maryland Terps will face the East Carolina University Pirates in the 2010 Military Bowl ‎presented by Northrop Grumman December 29 in one of the 31 sponsored college bowl games that will dominate sports television for the next few weeks. And while fans of both teams will tune in or venture to RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington, DC, for the game, organizers are hoping the economic return will be worth the investment.

BLACK ENTERPRISE caught up with Gregory A. O’Dell, president and CEO of the Washington Convention and Sports Authority to get his take on the financial impact the NCAA bowl games have on the city.

How do you market the game in order to ensure a good turnout?

What makes it tough for a bowl game is we don’t know until three weeks out who is going to be playing in the game. So it makes it very tough for us to make sure that we select teams that we know are going to drive visitors to our city. The other strategy is to try to make the bowl bigger than just the matchups, so we’ve moved from having a regional sponsor with Eagle Bank Bowl– who was a great sponsor for us, but didn’t have the national exposure that we needed. Northrop Grumman gives us that national exposure and we also have a charitable sponsor with great exposure, the USO.

It’s all about attendance to make it successful from an economic standpoint, no?

That’s correct. We have to drive pure attendance–be it local attendance or visitors from outside the city–to make the economics of the game work. The two components of that are the ticket sales and the sponsorship. Having a national sponsor onboard and making this a bigger, broader experience will help us drive ticket sales and help us get sponsors. We’re equally invested in making sure that we drive business to the city to drive the economic impact. So there is a scenario where the game may break even, but [it's] still a win for the city because we put people in hotel rooms, restaurants and ultimately that came back as tax dollars to the city.

What is the city’s investment in the game?

What may surprise you is that from the city’s perspective, that number is probably lower because our investment is limited. We’re not funding the entire operation of the bowl. The city is making a limited investment of around $250,000 to help the bowl committee put together the game. Last year, for example, we made a similar investment and we know we had 2,400 room nights and it drove restaurant visitation as well, so it did what we wanted it to do in terms of driving economic impact.

The event doesn’t seem like a fit for Northrop Grumman since they’re a defense contractor and don’t sell products directly to consumers.

We spoke to them about wanting to make sure there was a benefit for the men and women of the services with USO as the charitable sponsor. [Northrop Grumman] just relocated to the Metro Washington area in Falls Church, Virginia so this was as much about them wanting to have a presence in this community as giving back to the men and women of the armed services.

At the end of the day, what’s your report card to determine whether this was a success?

We think given the level of investment, if we drive business to the city as evidenced by the economic impact statistics by visitation and restaurants, we can see what the impact was as a result of this event. And since we have some equity in the event itself, we want to see the bowl at least break even or get to a profitable state. That will come in time, once the bowl matures, and we think we’re positioned well now that we have a national sponsor. For us, making that investment in types of events is exactly what we need to do. It doesn’t have to necessarily come back to us in direct revenue, but we want to make sure we’re driving that economic impact.

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