Bowl breakdown: Is it worth the trip?
CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois will receive more than a million dollars for facing Louisiana Tech in Friday’s Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, but it will likely spend about that much in flying, feeding and housing the team, staff, faculty advisers, band members and administrators and their families.
Bowl games — at least second-tier ones not named Rose, Sugar or Orange — are not exactly financial windfalls for schools.
The rewards, according to supporters, are more intrinsic — the coach has more time to hold practices with players and can talk up the bowl appearance to recruits; it’s a reward for players; and fans can mingle with other fans, possibly in a warm, sunny destination.
With the Illinois football team and its entourage headed to a third pre-New Year’s Day bowl in the last five years — each following a 6-6 regular season — The News-Gazette reviewed expenses and payouts associated with recent postseason trips and found the spectacles to be far from financial boons.
The university has spent about $4.5 million total for its last three bowl appearances, according to documents filed with the NCAA. Schools receive payouts from their conferences to help cover bowl expenses, and that amount varies depending on the bowl. For example, the 2008 Rose Bowl payout ($2.1 million) was larger than the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl payout ($750,000).
For the last three bowls, the UI’s payouts came to $4,350,000. However, schools can receive additional money when their expenses exceed payouts, said athletic department spokesman Kent Brown.
Going to a bowl is an expensive proposition and no small undertaking. It involves sending hundreds of people on charter planes to the bowl location, as Illinois will do at 10 a.m. Monday for a game on Friday.
The payout to the UI for the Dallas bowl will be $1.6 million, according to Brant Ringler, the game’s executive director.
“My sense is that (payout) is going to be spent pretty quickly in terms of the expenses associated with the event itself. ... Typically, schools don’t do this on the cheap,” said Ellen Staurowsky, professor of sport management at Drexel University and co-author of “College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA Amateur Myth.”
When participating in a bowl game is a break-even venture, the question, Staurowsky said, is “Why do you do it?”
The answer, Brown said, is when the college football season kicks off every fall, all 128 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision are gearing themselves up for and want to go to a bowl game.
“That’s part of the great tradition of college football,” the reward at the end of the season. “There’s the pride factor of being in a bowl game,” he said.
And when a team goes to a bowl, lots of people go along for the ride.
The travel party
With a team roster around 100, plus coaching staff, assistants and family members, just the football players and staff can total around 150 people. And that’s not counting any band, cheerleaders, athletic department staff, faculty advisers to athletics, college administrators, spouses or children.
Of the three previous bowl trips, the largest contingent traveled to the Rose Bowl, played on Jan. 1, 2008. That group totaled 688 people, compared with 387 who made the trip to San Francisco in late December 2011. For the 2010 Texas Bowl, 646 people traveled to Houston.
For the San Francisco trip, the traveling party was made up of: 172 people as part of the team or the team staff; 113 people with the Marching Illini and cheerleading squads; and 102 people in the “official party.” That last group included athletic department staff and their families; former President Michael Hogan; former trustee Lawrence Oliver; Chancellor Phyllis Wise and her partner, Richard Messinger; Wise’s advisers; and some faculty advisers to athletics, plus their families.
Also accompanying the party to San Francisco that year was Tim Beckman, hired as the next head coach a few weeks before the game, and his family. There are student assistants, student managers, trainers and more.
The list of those traveling to the Heart of Dallas Bowl is still being compiled, according to Brown. The length of this trip is expected to be a bit shorter compared with the other bowls, when the number of days traveled has varied from five to nine. This week’s trip will cover five days, with a return scheduled after the game on the 26th. Two planes have been chartered: one for the team and their families, and one for staff and their families.
Unlike the San Francisco trip, when only a portion of the band attended, the full Marching Illini band will go to Dallas, but the band will travel via bus.
Food, lodging, gifts
A large portion of the bowl budget is spent on transportation. For the Kraft Bowl on New Year’s Eve 2011, the team, its staff and others in the “official party” traveled to San Francisco at a cost $559,925. For the Texas Bowl on Dec. 29, 2010, the bill came in much lower, at $360,691. Rose Bowl transportation costs were the highest of the three, running a total of $794,153, according to the expense reports.
For each of those days away from home, the university covers lodging and meals (when the bowl organizers do not provide food) for everyone who travels with the team and is part of the official party. Where they eat is up to them, according to Brown. Travelers receive a set amount for food expenses, a per diem.
These rates are set by the Illinois Higher Education Travel Control Board, with different rates for in-state and out-of-state travel. The daily allowance is $32 for out-of-state travel ($6.50 for breakfast, $6.50 for lunch and $19 for dinner).
As for room accommodations, the team and its staff stay at the hotel designated by the bowl organizers. For the Heart of Dallas Bowl, they will stay at the Hyatt Regency in Dallas.
Hotel rooms and food for everyone cost $314,694 in San Francisco, $385,534 in Houston and a whopping $768,384 in Pasadena.
One of the perks for players in a bowl game is the swag, like headphones, gift cards and watches, provided by the bowl organizers. The items vary by game, but generally include electronics and clothing. At the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the list of souvenirs includes an Ogio Marshall Pack backpack, a beanie and a Big Game football. People also will be invited to the “gift suite,” where they can choose among a variety of items arranged in a hotel room.
“We don’t know what the players already possess. ... If we give them a gift, they may already have it,” Ringler explained about the gift suite concept. Players have five points, and there are five different levels, with different items worth different points. Players can pick and choose what they want in the suite. This year, some of the items include a GoPro camera and Beats by Dr. Dre headphones.
The bowl provides 125 of these “awards,” valued at $550 per player per NCAA rules, for the team. But the university will pick up the cost for distributing these gifts to others traveling with the team, such as trainers, student workers and administrators.
The bill for these awards: $98,824 in Pasadena, $88,600 in Houston and $68,456 in San Francisco.
These are taxable benefits, Brown pointed out.
This is the fifth year for the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The first four games were broadcast on ESPNU, but this year, the game will be shown on ESPN, “which will increase exposure dramatically for the teams in the game,” Ringler said.
With no other bowl games going on at that same time, and it being the day after Christmas with many people still on vacation, Ringler anticipates strong viewership.
As for projected attendance Friday at the historic Cotton Bowl, Ringler put the estimate between 25,000 to 30,000.
With most bowls, teams that accept bids commit to a certain number of tickets. The UI’s allotment for the Heart of Dallas Bowl is 4,000.
Just how successful a team is in selling bowl tickets can vary. The bowl’s prestige, date and location all play a role, Staurowsky said.
Fans find out about bowl games on Dec. 7, but not many families have the flexibility to adjust their holiday plans in a short window of time, she said.
However, if the team is playing in a major bowl, “somehow people move heaven and earth to do that. The incentives are less when the stakes are not as high. With mid- to lower-tier bowls, if they’re not in your back yard, chances are people may not be seeing this as the kind of holiday destination that would take them away,” Staurowsky said.
Of the UI’s 4,000 tickets, some will be distributed free to family members and others, Brown said.
The university sells the rest.
Tickets on the lower sideline are $75 (or $25 for students). The UI’s athletic department has added some incentives. People who buy tickets through the Illinois ticket office receive two seats to a men’s basketball game, against either Rutgers or Nebraska. And their names are entered into drawings to be the guest coach at the 2015 spring football game, for four season tickets and parking passes, and invitations to several different events in 2015.
So far, about 3,000 tickets have been sold, Brown said.
Of the Illini’s recent bowl games, the most tickets were sold to the Rose (25,098), but the university was committed to 26,272. That left the UI to absorb $158,490 total for unsold tickets. The total cost of tickets absorbed for the Kraft Bowl reached $107,020.
“If you’re not able to sell the whole allotment, the Big Ten has the ability to step in and make everybody whole,” Brown said.
A look at the expenses for the last three Illini bowl trips:
Bowl: Fight Hunger — Texas — Rose
Transportation: $559,925 — $360,691 — $794,153
Food/Lodging: $314,694 — $385,534 — $768,384
Entertainment: $18,604 — $5,555 — $13,034
Promotion: $3,714 — $2,834 — $13,178
Awards: $68,456 — $88,600 — $98,824
Equipment: $12,456 — $12,014 — $41,032
Unsold tickets: $107,020 — — — $158,490
Administrative: $155,308 — $226,115 — $2,138
Other: — — — — $306,108
Total: $1,240,177 — $1,081,043 — $2,195,341
The University of Illinois spent about $4.5 million to go to the last three bowl games and took in about $4.35 million from the bowl payouts.
Bowl: Rose — Texas — Fight Hunger — Heart of Dallas
Date: Jan. 1, 2008 — Dec. 29, 2010 — Dec. 31, 2011 — Dec. 26, 2014
Location: Pasadena — Houston — San Francisco — Dallas
Opponent: USC — Baylor — UCLA — Louisiana Tech
Payout: $2.1 million — $1.5 million — $750,000 — $1.6 million
UI expenses: $2,195,341 — $1,081,343 — $1,240,177 — N/A
Tickets sold: 25,098 — 3,585 — 2,432 — About 3,000 (of 4,000) so far
Source: University of Illinois documents filed with NCAA