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Bowl game exposure can come with a cost

David Gura Dec 4, 2012
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Fans love a bowl game. Players get more time in the spotlight and schools get payouts.

“It’s a considerable amount of money,” says Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School. “It is millions of dollars.”

Now, that varies by bowl.

This year, Louisiana Tech University wrapped up a pretty good football season, and the Bulldogs got an invitation to play in the AdvoCare v100 Independence Bowl. The payout for that game is $1.1 million.

Reportedly, school administrators thought Louisiana Tech had the potential to get an invitation to a bigger bowl with a bigger payout. That never came to pass, and by waiting, the Bulldogs lost their spot in the Independence Bowl.

Why are schools so worried about payouts?

“I think it is very common for teams and universities to lose money on bowls,” says Brad Humphreys, an economics professor at the University of Alberta.

That payout has to cover transportation and hotel rooms for the team, and colleges and universities customarily pay coaches big bonuses for taking teams to the post-season. And all that adds up.

“The really hard thing to assess, when it comes to college sports, is whether anyone makes money or not,” says David Berri, who teaches economics at Southern Utah University. That’s because returns can’t be quantified easily. 

Schools claim bowl appearances help with recruiting, and they lead to future ticket and apparel sales, but Humphreys says to remember what led to all these new bowls in the first place: sponsors and the places in which these games are played.

“You know, we’re talking about local convention and visitors bureaus who are trying to figure out a way to get an additional 20,000 people to come into town in December,” he says.

But even the benefits of that aren’t easy to calculate, and there is scant evidence sporting events lead to long-term economic growth in cities.

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