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Can Local Bowls Survive Playoff Expansion?

Sports

FCS Championship game logo | Image by ESPN

When the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national championship game is played at Frisco’s Toyota Stadium at 1 p.m. local time on Sunday, it will be the fifth college postseason game played in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in three weeks.

The FCS Championship game has been played in Frisco since 2010, and its current contract runs through 2026. While it is not technically a bowl game because it is part of the FCS and not the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), it does have a substantial impact on the Frisco economy.

The game has an average attendance of 19,000 and brings in $9.7 million.

The impending expansion of the College Football Playoff, starting with the 2024-2025 season, casts a shadow of doubt on the future of non-playoff FBS bowl games, three of which are played in the local area. The Cotton Bowl will be included in the future playoff format as a semifinal and quarterfinal venue on a rotating basis.

But the uncertain future raises some questions.

Are there too many bowls? Which ones will continue, and in what capacity? And how would that impact college football programs, athletic departments, and host cities around the country?

While attendance can waver from year to year, depending on elements like the participating schools, the particular venues, or even the weather, the bowls have brought a positive economic impact — adding between $2.5 million and $100 million to North Texas communities.

But will they all be able to survive?

Dallas Sports Commission executive director, Monica Paul, explained the approach to hosting local bowl games within the metroplex to The Dallas Express.

“We recognize each bowl game’s importance to communities and to the student-athletes, spirit squads, and band members participating. No matter the bowl, we’re committed to ensuring successful teams and hardworking players get their last curtain call on a memorable season.”

“For students and their families, this end-of-year trip is a reward for countless hours of determined work and dedication. We want to ensure their hard work is celebrated and that they all leave our area with memories that will last a lifetime. As long as there’s an appetite and audience, bowl games will continue to meet demand, serve communities, and celebrate their value to student-athletes.”

The Armed Forces Bowl (formerly known as the Fort Worth Bowl) has been played in Fort Worth since 2003. While this year’s game was affected by uncharacteristically cold winter weather, it still sold 43,875 tickets, and the event typically averages around 30,000 in annual attendance.

The First Responder Bowl has been played in Dallas since 2012. Its average attendance is not much lower than the Armed Forces, but it was the least-attended local bowl this year (10,343). Only the FCS Semifinal games — which are played on college campuses — and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl brought in fewer people.

The Frisco Bowl is the newest of the bunch, debuting in 2017 at Toyota Stadium. It is usually one of the first bowl games played each year and features schools from smaller conferences. The bowl will be played at least four more times as its current contract continues for the next four years.

“I would assume that there will still be value like there always has been,” Boise State athletic director Jeremiah Dickey told The Dallas Express. “These bowls are part of the history and fabric of college football and something that communities seem to embrace, and college football fans overall [embrace].”

Dickey’s Boise State team played in this year’s Frisco Bowl against the University of North Texas. Both programs told The Dallas Express that it was a first-class experience, and they would recommend being a part of the festivities.

“I can’t say enough about [executive director] Sean Johnson, Kristin Click, and the team,” said Dickey. “They did a tremendous job and really made us feel at home. They provided a unique student-athlete experience, which was important to me and our staff.”

“The experience for our student-athletes was tremendous,” said UNT athletic director Jared Mosley. “Everything was done first-class. I think our young men and coaches had a great time.

“The staff at the Frisco Bowl, they do an amazing job. I feel like they’ve put an outstanding, really remarkable program and product and experience on the table. Anytime you can provide your student-athletes that experience, it’s a nice reward for hard work,” Mosley said.

He also pointed out the uniqueness of a local school getting to play a bowl game close to home and how easy it makes travel for the fans.

“We’ve been in three local bowls, and they always have a different feel just with tailgates and fans being around. You definitely notice a different vibe locally.”

Boise State is also familiar with the impact of bowl games on local communities as the host of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl each year since it began as the Humanitarian Bowl in 1997.

“Tying in the community initiatives that all these games have, it matters,” Dickey said. “It’s something that, anytime you can get an extra game in the stadium and show off what you have from a recruiting standpoint, it helps us tell our story.”

Johnson also emphasized the impact of bowls on the athletes and the local communities in an interview with The Dallas Express.

“It’s a special opportunity for the student-athletes,” he said. “We’re trying to build something that can impact the Frisco Community, the North Texas community, and I feel like it’s my duty to give back to the community and provide a unique experience that they can look back and remember.”

Each bowl bid also affects the individual institutions and conferences because it comes with a payout for participating teams to distribute among the fellow members of its conference. For these local games, the payouts range from $650,000 to $4 million.

“Having the opportunity to get to a bowl pays dividends down the road,” added Dickey. “It opens up a ton of opportunities for us. It really drives us to compete for [Mountain West Conference] championships.

“The access we have to bowls and the ability to tell our stories — not just for individual institutions, but for the overall conferences — and … to play on national TV or various networks that expand our reach and allow us to build our brand — there’s a lot of value in that,” Dickey concluded.

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