Pandemic threatens American college football’s lucrative tradition

U.S. universities struggle to put together squads for lucrative end-of-season American football games as Covid-19 spreads across the country, jeopardizing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for schools playing in holiday “bowl” games and the cities that host them.

Televised college football games are a traditional feature of the Christmas holiday season in the United States. Dozens are staged, often with corporate sponsors and preceded by elaborate parades. Some of the games are also part of a knockout system to select a national college football champion.

Although some teams are healthy enough to compete in the Bowls, the pandemic forced the cancellation this week of contests such as the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Fla., And the TransPerfect Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee. – the names developed reflecting the rush in recent years for sponsorship.

This muddies the financial picture not only for the regional conferences which organize bowls matches and distribute the proceeds to universities, but also for the hosts of the events themselves.

The contract between the college football playoff system and its broadcaster, ESPN, is worth $ 7.3 billion over 12 years, according to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Schools with large fan bases such as Notre Dame automatically win $ 3.2 million to qualify for a playoff berth, while the base payout for other playoff-eligible schools is $ 300,000.

“Each of these conferences has its financial deals with bowling games, and all of them were dropped this year, renegotiating for this year only,” said Nick Carparelli, executive director of the college football playoff defense organization, Bowl Season.

While he did not give an estimate of the full financial impact of changes to the 2020 playoff schedule, he added that “there won’t be as much profitability as the bowls dip into their reserves. “to help finance the travel costs of teams healthy enough to participate in one-off games.

Last year the college football qualifiers generated $ 460 million in payments to participating conferences and their universities, according to the Knight Commission.

This year, 44 playoff games were scheduled, with the top four teams from the regular season invited to the playoffs on New Year’s Day. The winners will advance to a national championship game on January 11.

Besides being a boon to TV ratings, bowl games are big tourist draws, drawing sports fans to largely temperate locations to celebrate the New Year and their favorite team.

The Music City Bowl, an annual venue in Nashville since 1998, was canceled Sunday due to increased cases of Covid-19 among one of the teams scheduled to participate, the University of Missouri. Since its inception, the game has provided a boost of $ 350 million to the local economy, according to organizers.

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The 130-year-old Rose Bowl from Pasadena, California has been moved to Texas due to the spread of Covid-19 in southern California. Organizers estimate that the game and its affiliate parade generated $ 200 million for the local economy in 2018 alone.

The winter coronavirus outbreak has also forced some prominent football programs to retreat from the holiday bowl tradition. Stanford University, which struggled to play its last football games in December after city officials banned contact sports in the Palo Alto area, decided to end its season just before the summer break. Christmas.

“As much as a lot of us would potentially love to bowling, I don’t see how we could do it,” said Stanford Football Director David Shaw. “It didn’t seem practical.”

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