The Business of Sports

Orange You Glad College Bowl Season Is Almost Over?


In marathon terms, right now we’re nearly at mile 21. With a little more than five to go, your body is going to do one of three things: break down and refuse to continue, blister and slow your pace from an 8.5-second mile to an agonizing stroll, or find a second wind that will carry you gratefully over the finish line.

Thirty-one college football bowl games down, four to go. The fresh workout of the NFL Playoffs leading to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis beckons. From fans to college administrators, bowl sponsors to ESPN’s weary College GameDay crew, I think we’re all ready to move on. Except, of course, for those SEC nuts gearing up for Monday’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans between the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University—and the biggest days-long party this side of Mardi Gras.

Let the schools rake in their bowl takes. Let the coaches collect their postseason bonuses. For better or worse, let these four remaining bowl games begin.

Bowl Number Crunchers Pin Their Hopes on Monday and Beyond

West Virginia’s 70-33 win over Clemson in Wednesday night’s Orange Bowl was the biggest blowout in Bowl Championship Series history. It was also one of its worst ratings duds. Nielsen indicated the game’s ratings were down 46 percent from the comparable bowl game last year. Despite dramatic Rose and Fiesta Bowls this past Monday, in fact, ratings through four BCS games this year are down 13 percent from a year ago.

Bowl attendance this season has fared even worse. While Orange Bowl attendance increased slightly from last year, seats on StubHub.com were “selling for as little as $11” the afternoon of the game, according to the Miami Herald, while 50-yard-line seats could be had for less than $300 on the Orange Bowl website’s ticket resale board. The night before, the announced crowd of 64,512 at New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Allstate Sugar Bowl was nearly 12,000 seats short of capacity, highly unusual for a Sugar Bowl game.

A full dozen college bowl games were played this season before one sold out—the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 29. Overall, total attendance for the 29 bowl games prior to the Sugar Bowl is “nearly 2 percent lower this season than it was last season,” as reported by USA Today, and average bowl attendance for the season will likely “fall below 51,000 for only the second time since 1979.”

What to blame—the economy, the matchups, or the BCS calendar, which scheduled all four of its bowl games on the new year’s first few back-to-work-and-school days? Or the ever-mounting pressure on schools to sell out their ticket allotments and make the whole bowl endeavor less of a financial black hole than it actually is? While it’s undoubtedly a confluence of factors, you can bet good money on one thing: We’ll not see any fewer bowl games played in the near future. Until they start losing serious money for the likes of ESPN and CBS, the games are here to stay.

The glimmering light at the end of the bowl tunnel this year, of course, emanates from New Orleans, where Mercedes-Benz Superdome operators and local merchants have much to be hopeful about in the new year. Not only is the BCS National Championship game and its average secondary ticket price of almost $2,000 back in their laps, the facility and its environs can also look forward to hosting the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Final Four in the spring and Super Bowl XLVII next year. For now, the Superdome and the city prepare to welcome the hard-partying fans of Alabama and nearby LSU. “This is going to be comparable to a Super Bowl, or even bigger,” longtime New Orleans resident and Sugar Bowl committee member Ronnie Burns told CBS, alluding not only to game attendees but also to the 100,000 fans expected to show up in the French Quarter just to be part of it all. The economic impact of hosting two BCS games in seven days is expected to reach $400 million, an important marker for a city that hasn’t yet gotten over Hurricane Katrina.

In case Monday’s LSU-Alabama game leaves you hungry for more college football, diehard fans can look forward to the AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, a brand-new event on Jan. 21 at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles that showcases the talents of draft-eligible collegiate players. The game will be broadcast on the newly rebranded NBC Sports Network and coached by Super Bowl winners Dick Vermeil and Tom Flores. “AstroTurf and the NFLPA are on stage at the Home Depot Center together arm in arm,” says AstroTurf President Bryan Peeples, noting that the NFLPA chose to partner with AstroTurf after visiting their Georgia manufacturing facilities, as well as the University of Tennessee’s Center for Athletic Field Safety, which is funded by the synthetic-turf leader.

For Coaches, Big Bowl Bonuses

Not really concerned about bowl attendance and ratings are the coaches who stand to gain substantially each year if they guide their teams to the postseason. As college football revenue has escalated dramatically, mostly due to schools’ and conferences’ lucrative TV contracts, so too have coaching salaries climbed to NFL levels, and in some cases sprinted way ahead.

Take the coaches squaring off on Monday. Regardless of whether he pockets another crystal football from Tiffany (TIF), according to a recent Wall Street Journal investigation, LSU head coach Les Miles will have already received $400,000 in bonuses—$200,000 for both reaching and winning the SEC championship game and $200,000 for making it to the BCS National Championship Game. If he wins the big game, he gets another $200,000. What’s more, Miles stands to pocket up to $500,000 in a postseason bonus, coaching award, and salary adjustment, and yet another $200,000 if his team meets or exceeds the school’s academic measures.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban will receive similar compensation, sans “appearance” clauses—and he’ll get $400,000 if he bests Miles on the gridiron Monday.

As revenues have escalated (widespread scandals be damned), today’s college football coaching contracts in general have “morphed into an ever more intricate combination of guaranteed salary increases, lucrative bonuses, and desirable perks that cover everything from country-club memberships to free travel on private airplanes,” to quote the WSJ. Both Miles and Saban, like many other top-level college coaches, have set up their own corporations and foundations to shelter compensation from taxes and to manage their appearances and endorsements—which push the annual compensation for each coach to $5 million or more.

These stout sums are in line with a recent industry study that ranked the Crimson Tide sixth on a “most valuable football teams” list for its total value (currently $93 million). LSU ranked fourth, at $96 million. The top-valued team was the University of Texas Longhorns, at $129 million.

Looking Ahead to That Other Big Bowl

If Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King is correct, this year’s Super Bowl will also have a major New Orleans connection. King is predicting that the New Orleans Saints will win Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5 over the New England Patriots, 34-24.

The Super Bowl is still more than a month away, but that didn’t stop the big game from making big headlines at the end of 2011. For the first time, the Super Bowl will be available for streaming through Verizon mobile devices and online at NFL.com and NBCSports.com. Online viewers will have access to multiple camera angles, live stats, and replays of Super Bowl ads.

Just as impressive, NBC just announced it has sold out of ad inventory for its broadcast of Super Bowl XLVI, with some 30-second spots reaching as high as $4 million and most averaging $3.5 million, up from the estimated $3 million Fox earned for comparable ads last year. Among the most active categories of sponsors purchasing ad time, NBC reports, are the usual suspects selling autos, snacks, soft drinks, and beer, with Hollywood movie promotion projected to be slightly down from last year. Super Bowl regulars that have already announced their participation in this year’s event include Go Daddy, Volkswagen of America, General Motors (GM), Hyundai, Kia, Mars, PepsiCo (PEP), and Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD). Three weeks ago, Dannon announced it will also advertise during Super Bowl XLVI, claiming it is the first yogurt company ever to do so.

NBC’s six-hour block of pregame programming on Super Bowl Sunday is also showing strong ad sales, and the network expects to sell out of ad inventory for its streaming feed as well. (These ads will reportedly be different from those appearing on the TV broadcast.) Most of the ad packages for the online feed, according to SportsBusiness Journal, are selling in the six-figure range.

But not all Super Bowl news is good. An attempt to auction off prime advertising space on buildings in downtown Indianapolis during Super Bowl week has failed to draw any bids. More than 50 buildings were included in the auction, with bids expected to reach $100,000 per wall face.

Rick_horrow
Rick Horrow is a leading expert in the business of sports. As chief executive officer of Horrow Sports Ventures, he has been the architect of 103 deals worth more than $13 billion in sports and urban infrastructure projects. He is also the sports business analyst for CNN, Fox Sports, and the Fox Business Channel. Karla Swatek is vice-president of Horrow Sports Ventures and co-author of Beyond the Box Score: An Insider's Guide to the $750 Billion Business of Sports (2010). Horrow is also the host of Sportfolio, a new program on Bloomberg TV that airs Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET.

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