Of the forty bowl games this season, just six were scheduled to take place on campus. The Arizona Bowl – held at Arizona Stadium on the grounds of the University of Arizona – was among them (the others were: Armed Forces Bowl/TCU, New Mexico Bowl/UNM, Boca Raton Bowl/FAU, First Responder Bowl/SMU and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl/ BSU). Colleges and Universities aren’t hosting the postseason exhibitions because of when bowl season takes place. Remember, school is out of session between mid-December and the New Year and with so few people on campus at the time it’s logistically difficult to put on a large-scale event. But Arizona athletic director David Heeke believes that playing host provides a valuable opportunity to showcase the University (those who saw the Wyoming-Georgia State game or caught the highlights certainly noticed UArizona branding on the field) and he’s seen first-hand over the last two and a half years what the game means to “the people of Tucson; both emotionally and economically” (note: a recent study indicated that the game has generated more than $75 million in hotel and tourism revenues for the city’s businesses over the last five years). For those reasons, Heeke says it “makes sense for the [Arizona athletic department] to help make the game [a success]” – even if it means working through the holidays.
Howie Long-Short: In addition to supplying personnel, the Arizona athletic department gives TD4Tucson (the group putting on the game) “a really good rate on the facility” and sponsors the bowl’s postgame NYE party (see: they dropped a taco instead of a ball). Despite the University’s heavy involvement and the game’s non-profit status “[Arizona] does not lose any money on the bowl.” Heeke says there is “enough in the deal” with the bowl committee to ensure all of the school’s expenses are covered.
Heeke has only been in Tucson for a short period of time (he was hired in April ’17), but the Arizona A.D. has quickly picked up the right read on the market. He understands that “it’s a tight-knit community, one that expects the athletic department to be engaged and one where building quality relationships with boosters is [critical] to having success.” The Arizona Bowl is a smart event for Heeke and the athletic department to get behind because of who puts it on. “Executive Director Ali Farhang and the folks on the game’s executive committee are loyal supporters of Arizona athletics. Having the opportunity to get in lock-step with key movers and shakers in city government and within [Tucson’s] private sector will pay [dividends for the program] down the road.”
While the Arizona Bowl is not a profit center for the University, there is some short-term financial upside in hosting the game. Heeke explained, “it’s one more opportunity for the people of Tucson, who maybe haven’t been to a game recently, to visit our stadium and see the changes we’re making.” Presumably if they’re impressed, they’ll consider coming back for a game in the fall. The athletic department also works closely with the bowl on its ticket sales efforts. While the school doesn’t retain any of the ticketing revenues, it does gain access to buyer data which it then uses to “to engage those individuals and to give them the chance to get into [a University of Arizona] game next season [at a discount].”
Farhang couldn’t be more appreciative of the University’s contributions. He said that while some insist bowl games don’t matter, “the Arizona Bowl matters to the people of Southern Arizona. This game is about bringing the community together and civic pride, which frankly was lost a little bit when spring training left town [for Phoenix in the early ’10s].” There is also a philanthropical component to the bowl game. 100% of net proceeds are donated (estimated to be between $100K-$300K/annually) to local causes like the Boys and Girls Club of Tucson, Youth on Their Own, the Ronald McDonald House and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
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