Large dollar figures are thrown about when discussing the collegiate bowl games, and with $17mil going to each of the participants in the BCS National Championship Game it is hard not to. But for many universities participating in a bowl game it is not the financial windfall that it is perceived.
Going to a bowl game is expensive, very expensive. Everyone today is aware of the high expense of travel but can many imagine how to plan travel, hotel lodging and meals for an entire college football team, cheerleading squads, bands and the full ensemble of support staff? During the holiday season no less?
Several years ago the rules changed for how bowl revenue was allocated. In most cases money a school receives from participating in a bowl game is shared amongst its fellow conference institutions. For example, 10 SEC programs qualified to participate in bowl games this bowl season –the total bowl purse will be combined and split across all 12 SEC members. This change in revenue sharing was done primarily to drive parity for the betterment of conferences and college football as a whole.
What many don’t know about bowl game participation and the financial agreement between school and bowl are the ticket allotments each school is responsible for. A significant portion of a schools bowl revenue is derived from its ability to sell the tickets allocated; should a university not sell its entire allotment they must assume that cost which diminishes the money generated from bowl participation.
With allocations that can hover around 10,000 tickets and up with price tags of $40 per ticket those numbers can add up – and those are numbers are for lower tier bowls. The Cotton Bowl in the new Cowboys Stadium has minimum ticket prices at $150 a piece, an expensive proposition for Oklahoma State and Ole Miss should they be left holding the tab for unsold tickets.
Fortunately the NCAA and the bowl committees have acknowledged the rising cost for schools to participate in bowl games and have taken measures to help ensure that bowl experiences are financially beneficial to participating schools. Several steps taken have been to lower the ticket allocations, deferring cost through sponsor involvement and trying to take geography into account when selecting bowl participants.
Outside of the actions mentioned above taken by the bowl committees and the NCAA; participating schools have taken steps, some quite creative, to ensure its bowl experience is beneficial. After all, schools participate by choice and know the responsibilities in doing so.
Southern Methodist University (SMU) is participating in its first bowl game in 25 years – its first bowl game since the NCAA instituted the ‘Death Penalty’ on the football program in the mid ‘80’s. Though spirits are riding high in Dallas over this long awaited bowl game, the likelihood of many being able to make the trip to Honolulu for the Christmas Eve contest is rough at best. Knowing this the SMU ticket office has employed a novel concept to try and sell tickets while providing a kind holiday gesture to those who deserve it most.
SMU knows that its audience wants to buy tickets to the game, but many just can’t make the travel commitment especially that close to Christmas. What they are doing is offering their fan base the opportunity to purchase a $40 ticket to the game that SMU will then donate to U.S. military stationed in Hawaii. A true win-win and a win for those serving our country during the holidays.
Behind the financial reward directly received from bowl game participation is the indirect – and intangible – benefit that playing in a bowl game provides. Playing a bowl provides prestige, notoriety and a national platform for a school to display its athletic program and the educational offerings of each university. Bowl games provide positive impressions that resonate throughout the alumni, fan clubs, student base and local communities that directly affect donations, enrollment and perception of the school holistically.
The hidden value of bowl game participation is in simply being a participant – being an eligible program selected to join the bowl game party and not at home watching on television.