Bowling for dollars

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2002

HONOLULU -- It's snowing outside, family members have just polished off their Christmas dinner and someone in the house flips on ESPN to watch the inaugural ConAgra Foods Hawaii Bowl at sun-drenched Aloha Stadium.

Multiply this scenario by millions and everyone involved in the Christmas Day football game goes home a winner.

University of Hawaii and Tulane University win due to their teams' national exposure and the resulting potential to lure recruits.

ESPN Regional Television, the owner and operator of the bowl and the producer for parent company ESPN, generates high ratings due to the contest being the only one of 28 bowl games on during that time slot.

ConAgra, which is on a promotional blitz to get recognized, benefits from being mentioned throughout the 3 1/2-hour telecast.

And the state of Hawaii attracts attention as a desired vacation and business convention destination.

''This is a great opportunity for the UH football team,'' said Jim Donovan, executive director of the ConAgra Foods Hawaii Bowl. ''... This will be the only bowl game on that evening. People can either watch the 14th rerun of 'It's a Wonderful Life' or a live sporting event.''

David Preece, vice president for North America of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, said tourism should get a boost from the exposure.

''There's no question that televised events generate important exposure for the destination,'' Preece said. ''Especially during the winter time when it's obviously very cold in many parts of the country.''

Other benefits that televised sporting events bring to the local economy, Preece said, typically are the revenues generated from visiting fans coming into the state, and marketing opportunities for business meetings and leisure travel.

''The greatest benefit typically is the value of the TV broadcasts, because you're reaching millions of people,'' Preece said. ''The premise is when you're reaching millions of people, you have the ability to promote the destination in a positive light and to motivate them to take some action to come visit.''

Bowl games have become big money for college sports. This year's Bowl Championship Series will rake in between $12 million and $14.5 million apiece for their respective conferences. The minimum payout in bowl games, including the ConAgra Foods Hawaii Bowl, is $750,000 per team.

The NCAA revenue distribution formula dictates that 75 percent of a bowl's gross revenues go to the two participating conferences, with the remaining 25 percent going to the bowl's owner. Higher revenues mean greater payouts for everyone involved.

The Western Athletic Confer-ence will pay Hawaii a flat $350,000 for expenses, plus reimburse it for ground transportation. Hawaii gets to keep any amount it saves under $350,000.

and is responsible for ponying up any money it spends over that amount. Costs can accelerate when band members, cheerleaders and support staff are added into the mix.

Although Helsel wouldn't reveal what Tulane is receiving for expenses, he did say it was in the ballpark of the $350,000 that Hawaii is getting. However, he said the New Orleans school's expenses will exceed what it receives from Conference USA by between $100,000 and $200,000 due to additional personnel such as cheerleaders, band and staff that the school is bringing to the game.

Overall, Helsel said that Conference USA's total expenses probably will amount to about $1 million, excluding the $100,000 to $200,000 in additional costs that Tulane is incurring on its own.

ESPN, eager for the Christmas Day time slot due to its potential for a large viewing audience, signed a four-year deal earlier this year with the WAC and Conference USA, with Hawaii being guaranteed a berth for the first two years as long as it is bowl eligible.

Donovan, the executive director, said Hawaii's involvement in this year's bowl game can pay off for years to come.

''What it means for UH football is that there will be an awful lot of recruits watching this on Christmas Day that will translate into better recruits coming into the program,'' he said. ''The whole thing has a cyclical effect because the more you win, the better recruits you get. It spirals up.

''The game also is going to be great for our state. You're going to have maybe one of the largest audiences to watch a bowl game potentially outside of the New Year's bowl games. Hopefully, they'll be watching a beautiful day in Hawaii with ESPN spots cutting away to people surfing at the beach. Where most of the country will be fairly cold, if not knee deep in snow, kids will be taking off their shirts with the letters UH painted on their chests.''

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