Monday, December 28, 2009

Enjoy Independence Bowl; sustainability questionable

Today the 2009 edition of the Independence Bowl occurs, in what might the end of the golden era of Shreveport’s Independence Bowl and an eventual slide into oblivion.

At least it has a title sponsor which may allow it to last longer than the dubious previous one which defaulted on its commitment. Essentially going a couple of years without a sponsor and then with one that quickly stopped paying its money forced the entity that runs it, the Independence Bowl Foundation, to dip into reserves and led Shreveport to make a controversial and secret gift/loan to the organization to keep the game afloat.

But the problem is these follies did not go unnoticed by college football. This game will be the last matchup between teams from the premier power conferences in the land, the Big 12 and Southeastern Conferences. This decade, they have produced six of the nine mythical national champions and every year but one put one of their teams in the national championship game, They are so powerful that they have agreements with various bowls to place as many as eight teams (of 12 each) in bowl games (a team must have six wins against the top division’s opponents in order to qualify). Better still for the bowl game, geographically the Big 12 was the closest conference to it and the SEC had a natural affiliation with the area courtesy of LSU’s membership in the conference and also many fairly geographically proximate teams.

However, because of the game’s lack of prominence it was essentially last in the pecking order for both conferences, meaning some years enough teams would not qualify from either or both conferences and teams from other, less (and sometimes far less) prominence would end up playing in the game. That status has slid further, no doubt triggered by these monetary difficulties, with affiliations changing and beginning next year automatic bids will go to the third place finisher in the Mountain West Conference and seventh place finisher in the Atlantic Coast Conference, presumed to be the seventh and sixth best conferences, respectively. Regrettably, the ACC sometimes has trouble qualifying teams and the MWC is not very deep.

Making matters worse, the closest institution to Shreveport from them is Texas ChristianUniversity in Ft. Worth a couple of hundred miles away. After that, the next is over 500 miles distant and some as many as over 1300 miles away (by contrast, 14 Big12 and SEC schools are within 500 miles of Shreveport and the furthest is less than 750). Finally, the average school size and fan base of these 20 teams is smaller than the present 24.

All of this means the game in the future probably will draw fewer people from outside the area – this tourism impact being the main reason the city continues to subsidize the game (to the tune of $90,000 proposed in 2010; the state has ceased its direct subsidy of all bowl games) even in this era of forced budget austerity. Less attractive contests also likely will draw fewer local people to the game as well.

Therefore, even as it is the tenth-oldest game around, its struggles will intensify. As the second-smallest metropolitan area that hosts a game (and perhaps with the worst weather typically) with its local, indigenous corporations being bought up by larger, distant conglomerates, sponsorship dollars will get scarcer. More than ever, its sustainability is in question.

Which means the time may well come when the Foundation looks for extensive taxpayer dollars to stay afloat. This must be resisted as the coming dynamics are such that it is unlikely to bring in more monetary benefits to repay tax coffers than would go out. It’s a great jewel for the city and state, but perhaps beyond its means.

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