Why doesn’t Provo have a college football bowl game?
Obviously, there are only 40 college bowl games, so this could relate to just about any location. But why are there no bowl games in Provo or Utah for that matter? Of course, it’s the middle of December during bowl season, so I get how that can be unattractive with how cold it gets. But it seems like one of those things that would get good attendance if you got a Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup in Lavell Edwards Stadium. Has there ever been any talk of getting a bowl here?
It’s a bit more complicated than Kades answer, though a few of his points are valid. At the end of my comment I got into details about Provo, but first, I’ve laid out a few thoughts about bowl games that most people don’t consider.
- Bowl games are big business and not just for the NCAA and its schools. Each bowl game should be thought of as it’s own independent business because that’s basically what it is. Bowl games have their own websites, mission statements, executive officers, employees, sales people, sponsors. and media partnerships. You can google any bowl game, go to its website and you’ll find all sorts of information about its history and operations. The main point I’m making here is that bowl games differ from something like the NFC or AFC Championship games or the Super Bowl in the NFL. Those games are wholly owned and operated by the NFL.
- Bowl games are a commodity. While it might seem like there are a never ending number of bowl games each year, last I checked there were only 40 or 41 bowl games and that was already more than the FBS (Division I Football) could handle. The NCAA requires two 6 win teams in order to host a bowl game, at least they did until last year. In 2015, only 77 teams won 6 games, resulting in multiple bowl games being in danger of not being able to fill their games. For the first time, the NCAA allowed teams with a losing record of (5-7) to accept bids to bowl games. You can read details in the article linked previously, but with so many 5-7 teams the NCAA decided to pick the “best” 5-7 teams based on academics, which was actually pretty cool.
- ?Do you need viewers and attendees to get big TV contracts and sponsorships, or the other way around? The bowl games need to make money by attracting viewers and selling tickets. Viewers get better TV contracts and attendees bring in money from the actual ticket sales/in-stadium purchases and can help with funding from cities and states if the tourism is helping the local economy. Viewers and ticket sales combined, equal bigger more lucrative sponsorship’s. However, I do think it’s worth considering the idea that sometimes the TV contracts and big sponsorships are what first creates the big audiences. Even in Las Vegas, you have to wonder how many people would have just shown up to a football game that usually doesn’t have big names. Yet they’ve carved a pretty decent following. I think this is because the game was started with the mission being more tourism for Las Vegas. The game itself didn’t need to make money right away because it had strong backing from the city/tourism boards who saw the long-term value in having a popular bowl game in their city. Other bowl games are popular or iconic simply for being some of the first bowl games. You can’t buy history.
- Weather. Utah is really cold come bowl season and you can’t argue the disadvantage this creates. Some are quick to point out that Idaho has a bowl game, but if you look at this map of games, you’ll notice that it is one of only 4 cold weather bowl games. So there must have been a compelling reason for the game to start. In this case, you have the backing of the Idaho Potato Commission who gains more awareness and branding for a product that defines the state, the city of Boise which has been pushing for mainstream/tech growth and recognition and the gimmick of playing on the first Blue football field.
Understanding the previous points helps us understand why Utah doesn’t have any bowl games. Let’s look at the four most realistic chances the state has had or has today
–Provo/BYU/Lavell Edwards Stadium (Past-1999)– Having a Nationally relevant football program is certainly not required to host a bowl game, but it helps. During this time BYU had the most relevant football program the state has ever seen. They cranked out NFL QB’s and won the lone National Championship in the State of Utah. Unfortunately, the city of Provo was nowhere near ready to capitalize on this success. Provo was and is a college town and the population would have dropped more than 25% during Christmas break when students went home. Most bowl games are played during this time and it would have meant less chance to sell tickets to “locals” and a decidedly sleepy feel to the town. Not a great draw for tourists. The football stadium itself has always been an excellent, if not attractive, facility by all standards. It could easily have hosted even the largest of bowl game crowds. The city infrastructure, however, was nowhere near ready. Provo airport did not have commercial flights at the time. I-15 access from SLC airport was adequate but a long drive for a first time visitor. Provo itself had very little hotel space (even today there are not enough rooms to accommodate visitors to the new convention center if it were fully used). As noted, many students leave for the holiday season and these students make up a large chunk of gameday stadium workers, making it very had to staff a bowl game. Tourists had almost no reason at the time to visit Provo and very little to do when they were here. The downtown scene was bleak and good restaurants and bars were lacking for a tourist destination. Without a compelling reason to invest in a cold weather game, no one stepped up to push for a game. Quite a few bowl games were created during this time and the number of bowls hadn’t yet surpassed eligible teams, so in that sense the timing was perfect.
Is it possible that Sundance could have seen value in working with Provo and BYU to create more attention and revenue in the long term? We may never know, but I think the Sundance Ski Bowl sounds fun!
Final Opinion: Not a chance, wasn’t possible. It would have taken a very wealthy, very influential business/individual/Association to have created a bowl game. I don’t see how it could have been financially successful in any less than 10-20 years, so they would have to have been driven by more than money, at least in the short term.
I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on businesses/associations anyone thinks could have realistically benefited from pushing for a bowl game during this time and how they could have pulled it off.
–Provo/BYU/Lavell Edwards Stadium (Past-1999)– BYU’s fan base has never been bigger or stronger than it is today, but the football program itself has declined overall since 2000. Provo city now has some commercial flights coming in, but nothing that could be considered adequate. Hotel space is still not up to par, though that will likely be fixed in the next few years. Restaurants and Bars have improved in quality and number and Provo is significantly more vibrant and appealing than ever. Still, it is an hour from the closest airport on a freeway that is perpetually under construction. Roads in Provo are also still terrible for easy, quick navigation. It’s an old city trying to catch up while dealing with the problems of an established city. Provo’s population has grown, but students still make up a big chunk of it and are still a large part of gameday staffing. Maybe this isn’t an issue? Maybe all other bowl games deal with this same problem?
One of the biggest obstacles today is that there are way too many bowl games. Without some seriously powerful partners involved, this game would be host to 5-7 or 6-6 teams from conferences most people haven’t heard of. Who would attend this game? Provo still isn’t a big city and most of the students would still be leaving during the game. The teams most likely to go to this bowl would have a very small traveling fanbase and I just don’t see them being excited to travel to Provo. I was just at the Provo Towne Center mall the other day and I saw a Downtown Alliance magazine. I grabbed it thinking it was a big move that Provo had finally published some downtown advertising materials. When I got in my car I flipped it open and realized that it was the Salt Lake Downtown Alliance….even PROVO is telling people to go to Salt Lake to be entertained!!
Final Opinion: Maybe? But No. It’s definitely more realistic than it was 20 years ago, but that’s not saying much. I’d love to be proven wrong, but there’s just too many obstacles. Short of someone with really deep pockets making it their life mission, I’d move on from any hope.
I’ll make these quick since this is Provo centric
–SLC/Utes/Rice-Eccles (Past- 1999)– All the location problems Provo had back then weren’t nearly as problematic for Salt Lake City. The LDS church HQ/Temple Square is a world wide draw for tourists. SLC airport was international and a hub like connector for many flights. Hotel space was abundant as was quick access to the Utes stadium, skiing, Hogle Zoo and plenty of bars and restaurants.
The appetite for football in Salt Lake was definitely missing. Maybe the appetite was there, but no substance was being provided by the Utes. Utah football was terrible at its best and absolutely irrelevant (even locally) at its worst. *Ron Mcbride slowly turned it around by the end of the century, but overall it just wasn’t appealing.
Final Opinion: Possible, but not shocked it didn’t happen. This was still a cold weather game in a non-football city (at the time). Just doesn’t make sense, though it might well have worked.
*Seriously, Mcbride performed a miracle with that program. He was in Lavell’s shadow, but people have forgotten how bad Utah was. Much respect to coach Mcbride!
–SLC/Utes/Rice-Eccles (1999-Present) The City is more capable than ever of hosting a game and Utah football is at the top of its game. Nationally relevant almost every year and a member of the Pac-12. That alone should facilitate some of the connections needed to get the ball rolling on a bowl game here.
Final Opinion: Totally realistic, still not going to happen. If all the current Salt Lake and Ute details were the same and it was 1990, this could happen. But it’s not 1990 and there are way too many bowl games already. This would have to have some serious marketing power and big names behind it right off the bat to survive. But who knows, maybe Huntsman Cancer Research can see value in the branding of a bowl game? A great sponsor or mission behind the bowl is the key. Any ideas from anyone?