"Is there a problem with that? I don't think so," says Robert Boland, sports attorney and professor of sports business at New York University's Tisch Center. "I'm a sports lawyer, and I think the BCS would pass antitrust scrutiny because it provides a pro-competitive effect that matches the best teams every year and has expanded the structure to allow more teams in."
If TCU's an example of that inclusion, it's a cautionary one. After fleeing Conference USA and joining the Mountain West Conference in 2005, TCU announced this year that it would play in the Big East next year, with all signs pointing toward that conference's automatic BCS bid as motivation. The University of Utah, which went 10-2 this year and finished second behind TCU, made a similar move to the soon-to-be PAC-12, where Stanford's second-place finish behind Oregon earned an at-large BCS bid.
This may drive revenue for new superconferences, with fees for the Big East and Big 10 television networks bringing in more cash for their conferences and Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott considering a television network for the new Pac-12, but it's also driving some teams to the poorhouse in the short term. The University of Connecticut, which sealed its first BCS bid when it won the Big East this year and earned the right to play Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, is on the hook for $2.5 million in unsold game tickets (which cost $111 to $268 apiece), 550 $125 to $225 hotel rooms, chartered flights for the team, staff and a 300-member band and bowl bonuses for head coach Randy Edsall and his crew, according to the New Haven Register. The Huskies' estimated cut of the Big East's $18 Fiesta Bowl payout is around $3 million, which almost assures they'll lose money on the game.
They're in good company, as a host of college teams lose money on their bowl bids each year.
So why go? Because there's still big money in it, especially for coaches who use bowl appearances as resume points and team-building tools. It's a lot easier to keep your job and keep the recruiting pipelines flowing when your program appears in a bowl each year, but it's also a great way to put a podunk program on the map.
"If you're a coach and your team doesn't go to a bowl, you may be hitting the unemployment line," Boland says. "If you've gone to a bowl, you can point to that and maybe keep your job for a year and show you're on an upswing."
A university's bowl invite is also an investment in its players. The NCAA gives bowl teams an extra 15 practices, which is the fundamental equivalent to a college team's all-important spring practices and can help a young team build toward the seasons ahead. It's also an extra game on a bigger stage, which never hurts when trying to get your young players some experience or give your seniors a chance to extend their careers a bit. Most importantly, a bowl is a lucrative money magnet for programs looking to fill the seats and the coffers for homecoming.
"Athletic departments make money two ways: off of direct benefit -- what the bowl pays out -- and off the giving of alumni," Boland says. "It's a lot harder as an athletic director to mail out to various alumni houses and ask them for even a small donation when your team has missed a bowl game versus getting to a bowl game, throwing a party and asking them to help out more last year."
Athletic departments make money two ways: Off of direct benefit, what the bowl pays out, and off the giving of alumni," Boland says. "It's a lot harder as an athletic director to mail out to various alumni houses and ask them for even a small donation when your team has missed a bowl game versus getting to a bowl game, throwing a party and asking them to help out more last year."
As for everyone else, bowl games are a great way for a local company to connect with its key audience and for a local multimillion-dollar facility to fill its schedule. That's how the San Diego County Credit Union came to sponsor the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23, the new Yankee Stadium came to Syracuse and Kansas State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 30 and how Detroit managed to put a local company and an event-needy facility together for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26. While it also works to tap into a hungry college crowd -- with Chick-fil-A advertising heavily in its restaurants and on its cups for its New Year's Eve bowl in Atlanta and OSI Restaurants' Outback Steakhouse using its New Year's Day bowl in Tampa to push sales of its gift cards -- bowl sponsorship has less conventional uses as well.
After years of introducing itself to America through racy Danica Patrick Super Bowl ads, GoDaddy.com is now hoping sponsorship of the former GMAC (Stock Quote: GMAC
) Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 6 will make sports fans more aware of its Web hosting. Kraft (Stock Quote: KFT
), meanwhile, bought sponsorship of the former Emerald Nut Bowl in San Francisco and created a massive social-media campaign across Facebook and YouTube not to push mac and cheese on a hungry football public, but to provide 20 million meals to Feeding America to feed hungry families through its Jan. 9 Fight Hunger Bowl.
"Kraft is probably looking at that bowl game in a nontraditional sense, because it's all about the cause," says Bill Glenn, senior vice president of event and marketing firm The Marketing Arm. "Kraft wants to sell more Kraft products, but if you look at the true title of the bowl, it's all about cause marketing -- even if it isn't the most flowing bowl title."
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