For the 2015-2016 NCAA Men’s Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision post-season, there are 41 scheduled bowls, including the three that are part of the national championship series and the one that is not actually in the United States (the Bahamas Bowl). The number of bowls has grown to such an extent that the NCAA recently changed its rules to allow five to seven teams with high Academic Progress Rates (APR) to be bowl-eligible. This has become necessary because the 41 FBS bowls would require the participation of 80 schools, and there are only 128 FBS schools as of 2015. Without the rule change, there will not be enough bowl-eligible schools for all the bowls; only 77 schools had the 6-6 record or better for bowl eligibility, as of December 5.
With eight new bowls in the works – including the Austin Bowl, the Melbourne Bowl, and the Medal of Honor Bowl in 2016, and announced post-season games in Dubai; Ireland; Little Rock, AR; and Toronto – the post-season will only grow more crowded in the future. With the FBS’s “Power Five” conferences controlling who will compete against each other in the major bowl games, the smaller conferences are using this expanding post-season schedule as a way to get involved in the exposure a bowl appearance would bring.
One question remains, however: Are all these bowl games helping or hurting?
Bowl Game Fandom
In recent years, the introduction of a national championship playoff system and the glut of post-season bowls have created a tiered system in regards to in-stadium attendance. As shown in the above graphic, as the number of bowl games grew, the average attendance for a bowl game fell. The big games – such as the Rose Bowl and the BCS National Championship – can still demand in-stadium attendance in excess of 90,000. However, many of the smaller bowls – such as the 2014-2015 Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl, at 13,667 – only managed to get a fraction of this.
This is due to many factors, including the fact that many of the newer games are played in smaller stadiums or that these bowls have yet to garner fan attention or major media interest.
America’s “bowl fever” started with a single bowl game: the Rose Bowl. Originally meant to be a game in a schedule of sporting events during the Valley Hunt Club’s Tournament of Roses Parade, the Rose Bowl – named for the stadium it moved to in 1923 – grew in popularity and started to sprout imitators, such as the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Sun Bowl, and the Cotton Bowl. Oddly enough, the NCAA did not initially like the bowls, feeling that post-season play would “merely trade upon intercollegiate football for commercial purposes.”
However, the growth of television and the fact that the Associated Press publishes their college football polls at the conclusion of every bowl season, the bowls became must-see television. Watching the last-minute struggles to get on top of the rankings and the fight to claim the top spot – the perceived and, at times controversial, national championship – came to define what post-season college football looks like in America.
Bowl Game Title Sponsors
Bowl sponsorship is big business. Since the bowls started auctioning off naming rights to help to pay for the rising team appearance fees, it has been a mark of distinction for a corporation to have its name appear before a major post-season game. In 2014, only four of that season’s 39 bowl games resisted the temptation to sell the naming rights to their games; 12 of the games saw their sponsorships change as corporate sponsors moved from one game to another.
Among the corporate defections were Discover Financial, which did not want to support the Fiesta Bowl’s involvement in the playoff system; Vizio, which picked up the dropped Fiesta Bowl sponsorship; Capital One, which was actively lured away from the Citrus Bowl by the Orange Bowl; and Northwestern Mutual, which took the Rose Bowl after Vizio grabbed the Fiesta Bowl. Games that play before New Year’s Day typically sell their naming rights for between $500,000 and $1 million annually, while New Year’s Day or later games can see multimillion-dollar deals. The graphic above shows the title sponsors of the highest average attended bowl games during the 2005–2014 seasons.
We looked at the NCAA Football Bowl and All-Star Records and analyzed all bowl games from 2005 to 2015, as well as their corresponding attendance and title sponsors. The year of the bowl season was determined by the year in December when the bowl games begin, ending in the first week in January of the following year. For “Bowl Game Title Sponsors,” we excluded the Rose Bowl, which does not have a title sponsor but rather is “Presented By.” We also chose to only focus on the top 11 bowl game title sponsors for brevity purposes.
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