College football is a hugely profitable business with a surprising share of the total revenue generated during bowl season. This valuable niche is only growing in popularity, with record viewership and fan participation prompting the regular addition of new games. The 2019-2020 bowl schedule includes an astounding forty games—a bowl “season” that culminates in a national championship in New Orleans on January 13.
With so many high-stakes games packed into such a short amount of time, a thorough sports event management plan is crucial. Even seemingly small mistakes could hold huge consequences regarding viewership, advertising, and more. Thankfully, hardworking sports management professionals are on hand to ensure that events run smoothly. And that they generate maximum profits.
The rise of the college bowl has spurred considerable opportunity for aspiring sports event managers. If you're interested in making your mark in an exciting, fast-paced industry, this could be your dream career path. First, however, it's important to know exactly what's at stake. Not everybody is cut out for the challenge of planning and executing a successful bowl game.
Who Organizes College Bowl Games?
Organizing committees vary somewhat from one bowl game to the next. In general, however, the host city's sports commission or foundation is responsible for organizing the event. The Charlotte Sports Foundation's Will Lawson tells Front Office Sports that, despite the brief duration of the average bowl game, the planning process extends throughout the year.
With the cost of hosting a bowl game often exceeding seven figures, the entire endeavor would be out of the question without the assistance of sponsors. While attendance and TV viewership produce significant profits, many bowls rely on the consistent revenue made possible by sponsors, which, although influenced by ratings, aren't entirely dependent on them. In many cases, sponsorship also plays a key role in securing approval for the bowl in the first place, with sponsor information prominently requested on NCAA bowl applications.
While many companies jump at the chance to sponsor bowl games, the best sponsors often take some convincing. Not just any sponsor will do. Ideally, the selected company will be recognizable on a national basis while also holding some special significance in the host city.
Redbox Bowl executive director Ryan Oppelt tells the Banner Society that, while local recognition often influences revenue, it's also important for the sake of "having a synergy with a partner in the region...that invests not only their money but also their manpower, some of their assets in terms of helping to promote the game."
Securing TV Partnerships
The primary value in title sponsorships lies in television broadcasting, so it is critical for bowl organizers to secure the best possible TV deals. Most annual bowl games are aired on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2. Interestingly, ESPN's event-planning subsidiary actually owns several bowl games. Some represent acquisitions, while others were launched with the pure intention of strengthening already impressive bowl game revenue. TV partners play a key role in scheduling, with stations often determining the game's date and kickoff time.
Lining Up Teams
Once organizers have secured necessary sponsors and TV partners, they need to ensure that the right teams participate in the game. Many organizers maintain strong relationships with specific conferences, often cutting deals to be included on bowl draft lists. Other leagues essentially assign teams for mid-tier bowls.
High-performing teams are ideal, of course, but it's far from the only factor worth considering. Some teams simply draw better ratings than others regardless of performance. Ultimately, however, team selection is a gamble. Event planners and managers look closely at a variety of relevant factors, including:
- Which teams have played in particular bowls recently—most organizers prefer to avoid repeats.
- Which teams will produce the best matchups and most exciting games.
- Which teams consistently produce strong attendance numbers and ratings.
- Who actually wants to attend particular bowl games. (Not all teams are as eager participants as outsiders might expect.)
Typical Football Game Concerns—With Higher Stakes
Beyond sponsorship, TV deals, and team recruitment, event planners must consider the logistics that go into any football game. Often, however, these take on greater importance with higher-stakes bowls. Security, for example, is always a top consideration—but it may warrant additional attention for highly-attended bowl games. These games also require talented medical staff members and assistance from a variety of other dependable employees, all of whom must be vetted, trained, and supervised.
Beyond paid employees, most bowl games also recruit huge teams of volunteers to assist with setup and interact with attendees. Although not technically compensated, volunteers are often rewarded with special events and other opportunities, which must also be organized.
Beyond the Game
Planning involves not only the bowl itself but also the numerous events and activities surrounding each game. The week leading up to the game, for example, may involve an array of events targeted at both participants and community members. For example, prior to the Belk Bowl, players and coaches join NASCAR drivers for unique ride-along experiences at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
To drum up excitement in the community, organizers may host special games or tournaments for local youth teams. Likewise, youth clinics allow young fans to perfect their technique in hopes of one day ascending to bowl participation themselves. The Rose Bowl, for example, hosts an annual youth clinic featuring former NFL players.
Clearly, it takes a great deal of work, imagination, and persistence to pull off a successful bowl game. Skilled sports event management professionals make it happen. Their work begins long before teams arrive in town for the game—and as soon as the event ends, they launch into planning for the following year's event.
Planning a bowl game is far from easy, but for passionate sports event managers, there's no sight more rewarding than a full stadium and a cheering crowd.
Ready to amp up your sports event management skills? Learn more about earning your bachelor’s degree in Sports, Entertainment, Event—Management from Johnson & Wales University’s College of Online Education. For more information, complete the “Request Info” form or call 855-JWU-1881.