The dark secret of bowl games.

Hello friends,

A couple weeks ago, I told Bradford I wanted to write a puff piece about the cash bowl games make for their communities. I’d never actually read anything about this good news, but I figured, “Hey, it’s probably a thing.” Turns out, it’s totally a thing. Google “bowl game economic impact” and see for yourself.

As it turns out, not everyone’s convinced. And why should they be? Just look at the financial legacy of recent Olympic games and World Cups: they “rotted” Greece’s economy, forced people from their neighborhoods, and drained investments in barely-used indoor swimming pools. This sucks, because I love the Olympics and World Cup. And that’s probably how many people feel about bowl games. But is it time we both stop sipping the Kool-Aid? Let’s see. (But yes.)

Leadoff hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch.

Eighty NCAA football teams played a bowl games this year. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them: the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the AutoNation Cure Bowl, the Camping World Independence Bowl. I can confirm that I rolled my eyes when I saw the name of the last one speed across the ESPN sports alert crawl. Sixteen states host a bowl game, many of them—New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada, and Alabama—which aren’t home to any professional sports teams. In other words, for many parts of America, hosting a bowl game is The Sporting Event of The Year.

They’re also a cash cow—at least for select participating college football conferences and schools—which took home more than $500 million in 2014, according to an NCAA report from last year. The schools spent $100.2 million to take part in bowl games. Thanks the BCS’ decision to add a playoff, that’s just two hundred million more than the year before. Two hundred more million. Cha-ching. (Hear that sound? It’s the sound of gleeful executives celebrating the cash that the collective anger at the BCS system forced. No, wait. They probably just did it for the money.)

Surprise: the payout didn’t resemble Marx’s communist dreams. In that $500 million payout, eleven bowl games recorded a payout of less than $1 million. Nine more fell under the $2 million mark.

No one should be surprised then, that 13 schools that played in 2009 bowl games spent more money to attend the game than they received in compensation. Or that collectively, the teams lost $4 million. Schools aren’t the only ones often hurt. Taxpayers are also helping to foot the bill. (This should not shock anyone who follows the formerly of St. Louis Rams.)

For this year's Birmingham Bowl, the city donated $500,000 for the event. The city has a roughly $400 million budget. This year, it allocated $650,000 to community schools for the arts, after school programs, and some activities for senior citizens. (Apparently, the city usually only ponies up $300,000 but, welp, the bowl didn’t have a sponsor, so bowl organizers coerced an additional $200,000.)

Meanwhile, in Mobile, Alabama paid $1.1 million to host the GoDaddy Bowl in 2015. Its budget for this year was just under $250 million. (It was reimbursed $600,000 of that.)

How’s all of this justified? It's the economy, stupid. 

“[There will be] thousands in attendance, occupancy in hotels, meals being bought in restaurants to help support the tax base and the revenue of this city,” Birmingham councilman Jay Roberson told WBHM about the city's bowl game. Birmingham boasted that its bowl game had had an economic impact of $108 million dollars in the past decade, or an average of $10.8 million a year.

But numbers can lie, don’t ya know? From Death to the BCS:

The true economic impact of bowl games depends on the size of the economy being studied. The Alamo Bowl can brag to the mayor of San Antonio about the money out-of-town visitors contribute to the local economy. If the majority of the tourist came from, say Houston, [Alamo Bowl executive Derrick] Fox wouldn't dare be so effusive with the governor of Texas, to whom money spent is San Antonio is the same as money spent in Houston.

Also this was a real problem that the NCAA faced this year: Not enough teams had enough wins to participate, at least per the usual rules.

This reality likely didn’t help the problem of plummeting attendance. In recent years, bowl organizers have tried to boost ticket sales by hosting local teams—or at least those 2-3 hour bus ride away. But those folks don’t contribute much to the economic impact studies because they definitely aren’t staying in a nearby hotel and only maybe are grabbing dinner somewhere after the game. Maybe they stop at the gas station. Otherwise, they’re heading home right after the game. Here’s Death to the BCS again, on economic impact studies:

"They only count the good and then multiply it by two or three," said Philip Porter, a professor of economics at the University of South Florida. Some studies assume a hotel or restaurant will be empty if not for the event and then take credit for every customer. Or they don't acknowledge that much of the actual profit from major hotels, car-rental agencies, and even in some instances chain restaurants immediately leaves town to far-off corporate headquarters.

If you’re a bowl executive, your thinking on this has, shall we say, adapted. (No word about whether or not local politicians and business leaders have adjusted their expectations.)

"I think bowls' business models have changed," said Gary Stokan, president of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which in 2009 invited Georgia Tech, situated just over a mile from the Georgia Dome. "When we all originally stated, bowls were created to develop economic impact. That's still our goal. But with the contracted payouts you have now, you've got to weight that, balance the economic-impact figure with attendance.

Which means the local economic impact about which Fox boasted to Congress—"supporting pre-and post-Christmas business in hotels, restaurants, and visitor attractions," he said—is not just nationally nonexistence; plenty of bowls don't care about it.

"These types of events, if they benefit people locally, it does tend to be special interest groups and not the local economy," said Daniel J. Smith, an economist at Troy University, told in a disturbing look at the financially dubious Go Daddy Bowl. "What is particularly bothering is whenever they try to defend this type of cronyism by touting local economic benefits. They're just not there."

So as you prepare to cheer for the Clemson Tigers in Glendale next week—cuz ain’t no reader of F&F that should be cheering for a Nick Saban team—just remember that this is the same city that not so long ago laid off 49 employees to pay for its hockey teamCha-ching.

Stick to sports: In which we stay in our lane.


Stop giving Bradford ideas. Husband convinced his wife to name her daughter “Lanesra.”It was “unique” and “romantic,” he said. Two years after she’s born, he reveals it was just his favorite soccer team, Arsenal, spelled backward.

I (Bradford) am gonna name my first born "Retej". It means “strong,”“classy,” and “clutch in spirit.”

And “handsome."



Delay of game: All you can read before the clock expires.

Walk a mile in LeBron’s size 15’s. In 2014, LeBron James donned an “I can’t breathe” shirt in support of Eric Garner’s family, who lost their father to the police. So some found him  surprisingly benign when the Akron, OH native opted not to provide much of an opinion on the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s and the non-indictment of an officer who killed him.

Cavs beat writer Chris Haynes, who is black, offers needed perspective into this unease while recounting a devastating encounter he had with the Portland police. Despite his local celebrity status as a Blazers on-air reporter, he nevertheless spent a night in prison after the police forcefully arrested him while he walking on his own block. After he was cleared of the charges, Haynes declined to sue the department, a decision he now regrets. But his own thought process during that time gives him empathy for The King.

"When it comes to those advocating that James miss games for a cause, would you have the guts to take off from your job and risk putting your family in jeopardy of struggling?...Did James miss an opportunity when it comes to Rice? Only he knows the answer to that, but in the end, it's his life and his decision.We all have our own decisions to make."


Melo is evolving. Seth Rosenthal reflects on Carmelo Anthony’s transition from overly self-aware #brand to an organic, honest, voice of the people. Anthony refused to #stayMe7o (groan) about gun violence, police brutality, and prison reform.

"As a fan, I don't need my athletes to be political, and someone like Melo certainly need not care what some asshole at a computer thinks. But for reasons only he could explain, Melo departed boldly from sticking to sports -- and to business -- in 2015, and I thought it was pretty cool."

Write like a girl. Last week, feature sportswriter Jessica Luther released a boss list of the best sports writing from women in 2015. A cross section of silly and somber, it provided the best two hours I’ve spent in a while. Thanks, Jess.

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Morgan and Bradford