Reynolds: Bowl games worth the price?

Published 10:52 pm Friday, January 13, 2012

By Jon Reynolds

As an avid college football fan, I had heard recent rumblings about teams being unable to sell their tickets and losing money participating in bowl games. Then, I read where Bloomberg News reported that the AVERAGE team loss in a Bowl Championship Series bowl game in 2010-11 was $346,959 and the AVERAGE loss in a non-BCS bowl was $139,604. That got me to really thinking about college post-season play.

Bowl games are a reward for a season of hard work. I understand and applaud the concept. I understand coaches gain valuable extra practice sessions with their teams to develop new players for future seasons. The exposure many programs receive cannot have any dollar figure placed on the intangible benefits of millions of viewers being exposed to your institution, your program, and what the school has to offer.

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Schools spend millions on advertising their academic and athletic programs. Bowl games in that sense are some of the best advertising a school has to receive. But is this coming at too high a cost?

The horror stories from some of these bowl games are absolutely astounding. Connecticut won the Big East championship in 2009 and its “reward” was the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona. UConn spent $2.9 million dollars on its unsold allotment of 17,500 tickets required to be sold. UConn was required to stay at a specific resort at a cost of $211,496 and spent $164,428 on meals. In all, most estimates of the losses incurred, run from $1.5 million to as high as $1.7 million.

BCS bowl games are obviously not the only culprit in this system. Rutgers was a participant in the 2008 Bowl here in our own state of Alabama. The $300,000 payout for the school dissolved rapidly as Rutgers was unable to sell its 10,000-ticket allotment and lost $214,000 on that aspect alone. After paying $270,000 in bonuses to its coaching and athletic department plus transportation, lodging and meal costs the total bill for this “reward” was $1.2 million.

While it is relatively easy to dismiss these as programs without marquee value, it must be pointed out that the so-called “big-time” programs also struggle. Ohio State lost $1 million in unsold seats to the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. Virginia Tech lost $1.6 million playing in the 2009 Orange Bowl. Florida played in the 2009 BCS Championship Game in their own home state and made a whopping $47,000 profit after expenses.

Are bowl games worth losing money? At best, it is a rhetorical question that won’t be answered today or any time in the near future. While schools are required to buy up large blocks of expensive bowl tickets in advance and obviously have trouble making budgets, reports of $19 tickets at this year’s Sugar Bowl and $12 at this year’s Orange Bowl persist. The fans that really want to see the games only have to wait until they get to their destination to save expenses. Where exactly does all the revenue from these bowl game tickets wind up going? It appears to be fairly obvious that it is not going to the participants.