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College Football Bowl Games Mean Big Bucks for San Diego

College Football Bowl Games Mean Big Bucks for San Diego
Two college football bowl games will be played in San Diego, and that means much-needed tourist dollars for the region.

DOUG MYRLAND: I’m Doug Myrland, sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh These Days in San Diego. Well, tomorrow night San Diego plays host to the Poinsettia Bowl, with number 23 ranked Utah playing Cal Berkeley. Later this month, on December 30th, we'll host the Holiday Bowl, in which the Nebraska Cornhuskers play the University of Arizona Wildcats. During this segment we’re going to talk about the economic impact of these bowl games and their attendant crowds. We'll also talk a bit about the games themselves, and how they fit into the big picture of college bowl games. We’ll be joined a little bit later by Lee Hamilton to talk about those games but first we’re going to have a conversation with Carl Winston who’s the director of the San Diego State University Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research. Carl, welcome.

CARL WINSTON (Director, Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research, San Diego State University): Well, good morning.


MYRLAND: And given your position and your profession, you are the guy to answer the question in San Diego: What kind of economic impact do these bowl games have on the San Diego region?

WINSTON: The economic impact is actually quite positive. We’ve been doing studies with the Holiday Bowl for several years now and consistently we’ve been able to demonstrate through direct intercept surveys, from game attendees that they’re coming from out of town and they’re leaving their dollars in San Diego.

MYRLAND: Now I was watching a bowl game the other night on ESPN and they were in the New Orleans Superdome, a couple of southern teams, one from Middle Tennessee and one from Southern Mississippi. And it didn’t look like the Superdome was all that full, and I wondered how many people in those stands actually traveled from those towns to go to that game and how many were New Orleans residents who just sort of took advantage of the fact that that game was in town. And how, as you – how do you as a researcher kind of separate out who’s attending that game?

WINSTON: Sure. As I mentioned, we actually go into the parking lot on game day during the tailgates and go out and we’ll survey hundreds and hundreds of attendees to the game and the very first question we’re asking is are you local or are you from out of town?

MYRLAND: Because, of course, the economic impact is different. If you’re local, you’re spending money here anyway and so the economic impact is – you might spend a little more money because you went to the game and you went out to dinner or whatever. But it’s really hotel room nights, airfares, things like that.


WINSTON: Yeah, it’s money spent in the community. Generally we find that about half the attendees come from out of town to a Poinsettia Bowl or a Holiday Bowl game. It does vary.

MYRLAND: So if you fill up the stadium as we did a couple of times last year, that’s about 30,000 visitors.

WINSTON: Correct.

MYRLAND: Now, given the scale of tourism in San Diego, is that a big deal or not?

WINSTON: It’s a big deal in my mind because it’s generating upwards of $30 million of direct spending into our economy just from those two bowl games alone, let alone the indirect spending that comes – that follows that.

MYRLAND: So indirect spending would be what?

WINSTON: Well, for example, if housekeepers and waiters and waitresses are working in San Diego because there’s more shifts because there’s more visitors, they’re then getting a bigger paycheck, which they’re using to spend on food and amenities and, hopefully, Christmas goodies for their families.

MYRLAND: So how do you measure the direct spending? You know, somebody comes here from Nebraska because they want to watch the Cornhuskers play and they rent a hotel room and what else do they spend their money on?

WINSTON: Sure, we literally go into the parking lot and we use college students to do this. We train them and then we go into the parking lots and we’ll literally say, who are you? Where you from? And they’ll say I’m from Arizona. Great. How many nights are you here? How much are you spending on lodging? How much are you spending on food? Are you going to some of our attractions? And we find a lot of them go to the zoo and Sea World. And we’re asking them literally how much did you spend? And we’re then quantifying that and extrapolating that sample of, say, seven, eight hundred, nine hundred people into the total bowl game attendance.

MYRLAND: So it seems to me that sort of roughly you’re saying that 30,000 people equates to $30 million.

WINSTON: Yes, sir. Yeah.

MYRLAND: So 1,000 bucks apiece.

WINSTON: Yes, sir. And that does not include airfare, which would’ve been spent in their hometown or whatever, so this is just money that’s being spent in San Diego that would not have been spent otherwise.

MYRLAND: Can you compare and contrast this to some other kind of activity that might attract people to San Diego? You know, we have an America’s Cup event or we have a regular football game, not a bowl game. Is this…?

WINSTON: This is really unique in that it’s highly quantifiable. When a normal person says, hey, I’m going to go vacation in San Diego, they’re not coming just for one thing, they’re coming for our zoo, for our beaches, for the Wild Animal Park, for Legoland. This is a – very much of an intent to come is 97% for the bowl game. So similar events would be the U.S. Open last year. The Buick Open or the former Buick Open, it’s Century Club now, where people – we can literally go in and quantify that some percentage of the visitors came specifically for that event, so it’s a little different than a regular Chargers game.

MYRLAND: Now when you look at bowl games, do you kind of hope for certain teams to come because you know that their fans are going to travel more than others? Is it more of a positive impact if it’s a regional team where they don’t have to travel so far? Or how do you make that calculation?

WINSTON: It’s a wonderful question. And we don’t have any skin in the game so we’re pretty indifferent about it. But…

MYRLAND: Although you do run a program that encourages people to have careers in the hospitality industry so, you know, you, on whole, I would think you would want it to be successful. So…


MYRLAND: …you have a little skin in the game that way, right?

WINSTON: Sure. And you can see in the data if you go back year after year, the further away the team, the lower the amount of economic impact. So if you’ve got a Texas team compared to an Arizona team, generally you’re going to see more economic impact from the Arizona team because it’s a day’s drive.

MYRLAND: So we’ve really got an ideal situation in terms of tourism dollars here coming up because we’ve got Cal Berkeley, we’ve got the Wildcats, we’ve got a team from Arizona. The Cornhuskers are a little – A team from Utah.

WINSTON: Umm-hmm.

MYRLAND: The Cornhuskers from Nebraska are a little farther away but their fans are kind of famous for following them.

WINSTON: They are, indeed. And, you know, it’s an interesting scenario. The worst case scenario for the San Diego Hospitality and Tourism community would be that the Aztecs actually made it to one of these bowl games.

MYRLAND: Sure, because all the visitors would be local.


MYRLAND: Although, I would assume there are plenty of your colleagues at San Diego State who would find a counter-argument to that one.

WINSTON: We would love to see the Aztecs in but it wouldn’t be as good for the economy.

MYRLAND: What other – You mentioned the formerly known as the Buick Open. What are some other analogous events in San Diego?

WINSTON: You know, there’s a number of sporting events, the San Diego Sports Council, Hall of Champions, has got a purpose of just bringing in sporting events, and these range from regional soccer tournaments with high schoolers to, you know, larger events like the crew classic. There’s quite a number of sporting events in this community that sort of generate reasonable amounts of lodging and tourism demand.

MYRLAND: What are some special considerations that people in the hospitality industry have to give in order to attract people? I mean, how do people decide, for example, which hotel to stay in? Or what tourist attraction to visit?

WINSTON: You know, I think the lodging, a little bit depends – I have had multiple conversations with lodging operators in the community and some of them have – there’s some local high – high school bands that will be performing in the bowl games and they’re paying very low room rates because they don’t have big budgets and they’re staying at some of the hotels and motels in Mission Valley. The teams might be staying at the big hotels downtown like the Marriott or the Hyatt or the Hilton where they’re getting a higher rate. So the business sort of spreads around and the teams make the decisions a little differently than the man or woman on the street, if you will, back in Arizona or Utah or Berkeley.

MYRLAND: Now, we’ve had a very difficult economic situation in this country for the past year. We’ve – we’re just now coming out of a recession. Do you think that’s going to have a measurable impact on this kind of tourism or is this a unique enough event that the fans will find a way to follow their team even if the economic situation isn’t quite as good?

WINSTON: It’s – We’re not sure. The attendance in 2000 – last year in 2008 was down from prior year, 5, 10%. We’re not sure what’s going to happen this year. Certainly, we have some terrifically rabid fans as you identified. The economy’s a question mark. I will tell you the hoteliers, the restaurateurs, they’re ready for this, though. They’re really ready. So…

MYRLAND: Now you’re going to have your students out in force with their survey forms out in the parking lot tomorrow night, right?

WINSTON: Yes, sir.

MYRLAND: Did you add any questions this year? Anything new?

WINSTON: No, we’re keeping it consistent. We – we’re pretty satisfied that we’re asking the 22 right questions during the survey, and I think what we’re going to be fascinated with is to see, for example, the Poinsettia Bowl had a significant jump in out-of-town visitation last year. And we’re curious to see if that trend continues because its economic impact in the prior four years was around that $10 to $12 million range and it more than doubled last year. So that’s going to be a really interesting thing to see if the Poinsettia Bowl has finally matured as a bowl game.

MYRLAND: Well, I want to thank you, Carl Winston, for joining us. I have one final question. This research that you’ve done, is it published someplace that somebody could read it? Or are you planning on doing a larger study that’s going to be released?

WINSTON: It’s – We do provide the study to the Holiday Bowl itself and its committee and it’s not a proprietary document. I’ve got a copy here in my hand. I’d be happy to make it available to your listeners through your website or whatever makes sense.

MYRLAND: Okay. Well, thank you very much. Carl Winston, he’s the director of the San Diego State University Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research. And hope your students don’t get rained on tomorrow night doing their surveys.

WINSTON: Me, too. Thanks.

MYRLAND: Carl, thanks for being with us. We’re going to talk to Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton here in just about 30 seconds right after this brief interlude.

MYRLAND: You’re listening to These Days in San Diego. I’m Doug Myrland, sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh. And we’ve got Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton on the phone. He’s a sports talk show host on XX1090. His show is now called “Sports Watch.” It airs weekdays from 3:00 to 7:00 on XX1090. And, Lee, we’re always glad to have you on to keep our listeners up to date on the major sports stories.

LEE “HACKSAW” HAMILTON: Yep, happy holidays. It is a pretty interesting time right now with bowl games upon us in San Diego and obviously the Chargers potential run maybe to the Super Bowl.

MYRLAND: Yeah. We had some nice Chargers music in the break there. I don’t know if you could hear it or not. But today we are going to talk about those bowl games. We’ve got one coming up tomorrow night. And in general, do you think we have a healthy bowl game situation here in San Diego? Do you think they’re well attended and well thought of?

HAMILTON: Well, I remember the Poinsettia Bowl as fairly new to the party and they’re trying to build it. The Holiday Bowl has an unbelievable history and legacy almost by accident. They fell into this thing, oh, 25, 30 years ago and it’s been spectacular what they’ve been able to do with it, so I would say the Holiday Bowl is just a raging success, not only to our community in terms of the amount of revenue but also in the visibility to the community and what people see nationwide. Remember, the Holiday Bowl is the only game played on that night. It’s – excuse me, it’s televised nationally, it has a great history of shootouts. So when people think Holiday Bowl, they think sunshine, palm trees, and wild, high scoring football games. And the Holiday Bowl is just a tremendous boom, I think, to the community. In terms of the Poinsettia Bowl, it’s in its infancy stage. I was surprised initially when they decided to form a second bowl game here. I just did not know if the community was going to rally to it. I do think, you know, that they did it to create a little bit more revenue streams to, at the same time, you know, draw more people from out of the market to come visit the market during the holiday season and it’s just going through some growth pains right now whereas the Holiday Bowl is a huge sellout. You know, the Poinsettia Bowl is scuffing along at 25-30,000 per game and a lot of that is dictated by how many fans of these teams travel to come see these games.

MYRLAND: Well, this year the Poinsettia Bowl has a pretty solid matchup, number 23 ranked Utah taking on Cal Berkeley. Are the Utes really good enough to be in an even bigger bowl?

HAMILTON: Well, we know – All we need to know about that, Doug, is 12 months ago today Utah beat Alabama in a big bowl game as part of the BCS matchup. Yeah, Alabama, you know, gets stunned. Utah’s a very, very good football program. Cal has become a very good football program within the Pac 10 Conference. I think one of the things that disappoints me nationwide is the perspective if you’re not going to a BCS bowl, the Rose, the Orange, the Sugar, or the Fiesta, if you’re not going to a BCS bowl, your season is a disappointment or your season is a failure and that’s ridiculous. These kids who get the chance to go to these tier-two bowls, it’s a memory of a lifetime for them forever. I’ve got a friend that played at Memphis State that plays in the NFL. Memphis State had not been to a bowl game for 40-plus years. They finally got to a bowl game a couple years ago. It’s the memory of a lifetime for these kids who might be playing their last game ever in college football. So the bowls really do serve a purpose. And, yeah, to get back to your original question, Cal-Utah is going to be a good matchup and obviously the Holiday Bowl is going to be a dandy between Arizona and Nebraska.

MYRLAND: Well, I want to continue the conversation since you brought it up about the BCS and I think a lot of our listeners who maybe aren’t rabid sports fans are a little confused about how this whole BCS thing works. And some teams are in and some teams are out and there is no national championship and once in awhile you hear some politician talk about taking congressional action and, in a nutshell, Hacksaw, is this a mess that’s ever going to get cleared up?

HAMILTON: No, it’s not. And college football is so very different than March Madness college basketball. If you mention the words March Madness, everybody, I mean, from the hardcore purists to the fan with the, you know, passing interest in sports will remember March Madness as the NCAA Basketball Tournament where most everybody gets to play and you play each other off and you whittle it down until you get to the final four and the final two and the championship game on a Monday night. Well, college football cannot do that only because of the history and legacy of the bowls. You know, the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl that goes back to the 1930s, and all the other great bowls that we’ve had, and what these bowls serve is not only as something special for, you know, fans, friends, alums and players to go to, memories of a lifetime, it also serves as something really special to your community. You know, the San Diego Sports Council and these fine people in our town have made the Holiday Bowl just a tremendous extravaganza and a great event and a great selling card to fans across America. Well, if we went to a true playoff, you know, how would you not damage the bowl games? And, again, we make a lot of money in San Diego off the fans and tourists that come support their team at the Holiday Bowl. If the Holiday Bowl were a qualifying game for a BCS championship playoff, we might not get that many fans who would come see the qualifying game. You know, how much money does John Q. Fan have to spend? How many trips could he make to go see his team? So I would think there’d be potential you would damage the bowl games if you used the bowl games as a qualifier to get to a true national championship. So there’s no real perfect science. If we never had bowl games then we could have a March Madness type setup for college football but because these bowls are so special to the communities and there’s so much history, why would you do anything to damage them?

MYRLAND: Now the Poinsettia Bowl is tomorrow night. We’ve got Cal Berkeley and Utah. Would you care to go out on a limb and make a prediction?

HAMILTON: Well, Utah’s pretty doggone good. Cal’s got a very good quarterback. They don’t have their lead running back, Jahvid Best who’s out with a significant concussion, although they do have a very good second running back in Shane Vereen. I think it’s going to be a very competitive game, very competitive game. I think Utah could pull the upset. Utah is a pretty vibrant team. They run a big spread formation. You know, the fans that appreciate wide open football will probably enjoy this game a great deal.

MYRLAND: Well, let’s take a minute and talk about the Holiday Bowl on December 30th. You know, Nebraska’s always a team that sort of has a national following aside from their rabid local following, and we’ve got the Arizona Wildcats so we can anticipate a bunch of people coming over from Tucson. What do you think about that matchup?

HAMILTON: Well, we got Nebraska. When you think Nebraska, you think Tom Osborne, you think, quote, back in the day, the Cornhusker program is not, at this point, what it used to be under the legendary icon Tom Osborne. But it’s a very good program. They have the defensive player of the year, Ndamukong Suh. He’s a kid out of Oregon, defensive tackle. He might be the number one pick in the entire NFL draft. He is a really special, bigtime athlete. There’s no doubt that Arizona’s fun to watch. I call it a video game offense. They throw the football all over the parking lot. You know, it’s kind of flag football, street football, and they’ve pulled off some huge wins this season. I mean, they beat Oregon, they beat USC. So Arizona’s a very vibrant offensive football team. Arizona’s not had a history of going to big bowls so I think there’s going to be a lot of Zonies here in San Diego not just for, you know, Christmas shopping. They’ll probably come see the Wildcats play in this bowl game. You know, I grew up on the east coast, Doug, and I can remember watching the first Holiday Bowls back in the day and, you know, here we were snowbound on Long Island and I’m watching games in the sunshine and I’m watching Steve Young and Jim McMahon throw touchdown passes and the wild games with SMU and BYU and Michigan and I thought, boy, what a special bowl. And they have been able to manufacture those type of games virtually every year in the Holiday Bowl. I don’t know if it’s by design or it’s a little bit of lady luck but the Holiday Bowl has just been able to put together great shows for the fans.

MYRLAND: Now you mentioned watching these bowls from the east coast and sort of admiring the weather and the atmosphere and that was kind of the subject of our – of the first part of this segment where we were talking about the impact that the bowls have on tourism. So you really believe there is a psychological impact on people who are now in Washington, D.C. and New York, and Long Island had the most snow since the 1940s, and they’re watching these games. You think that that really has an overall positive effect on their attitude towards San Diego?

HAMILTON: Oh, I think so, very much so. Now, I don’t know how many people from Freeport, Long Island are going to go book reservations to come to San Diego next week. But I think the, you know, the selling point of the beautiful shot of the Coronado Bridge and palm trees and all that when you’re on Long Island and you’re looking out and, gee, that guy’s throwing snow in my driveway. I think this, you know, from a chamber of commerce sales card, boy, what great value that is. The other thing is the real direct value of having the Holiday Bowl here, your last guest was talking about the amount of money that is spent. You know, if they bring in a total of 40- to 50,000 to come visit San Diego for three days or spend a week down here, and football fans travel, I mean, the rabid football fan goes to see his team in a bowl game and it’s one big party. If, you know, if you’re bringing 40- to 50,000 from out of town and they’re here for three days or they’re here even longer than that, think about the amount of money they spend in our restaurants and all the souvenirs they buy and the tax money that is generated from that. Yeah, I think there’s great, great emotional value from a chamber of commerce standpoint, and I think there’s great financial benefit here. One thing I’d love to see and it’s strange, I don’t know if it’s possible, I’d love to see the Poinsettia Bowl played at Petco Park. I think you put that thing downtown by the Gaslamp Quarter, you would draw a whole unique, different culture to come to the game. And, of course, if you jam 30,000 into Petco Park, it’d look pretty doggone impressive rather than 30,000 into the bigger venue Qualcomm Stadium. It’d just be a novelty thing to say, hey, come to the Gaslamp Quarter, come watch your game, and by the way, you can look across and look into the bay and the beautiful hotels. It’s…

MYRLAND: Well, Lee…

HAMILTON: …really special.

MYRLAND: Lee, maybe you should float that idea on your sports talk show and see what your listeners think about that.

HAMILTON: Well, I’ve floated that idea also that Petco might also be the future home of the San Diego State Aztec football. But there are some things that I think were put into the contract involving the city and involving the construction of the stadium in terms of what events could be staged there, what events could not be staged there. But, hey, that’s why you have lawyers to negotiate and change the language. I just think Petco, though it’s not a football venue, shiny new Petco would kind of be a special place to hold the Poinsettia Bowl.

MYRLAND: Well, I think the downtown Merchants Association would probably get behind that idea, too. I’ve got you on the phone, we’ve got a couple minutes left, I do want to talk Chargers for a couple of seconds. You know, that was quite a game against Cincinnati the other day here at home. They’ve won 9 straight now. This Christmas Day matchup in Tennessee, what do you think about that? Is that one liable to sneak up on us?

HAMILTON: Well, it will not be easy for San Diego. They are really banged up. Very short work week. They’re only going to get two days of walk through practices, get on a plane Wednesday night, fly to Nashville, play Friday early. It’s going to be hard. Tennessee is – it’s – for them, it’s a life or death game. The Titans started the season 0 and 6. They have won 7 of their last 8, and they’re in a bitter fight for a wildcard playoff berth so there’s no doubt that they’re bringing everything they own to that ballgame in terms of passion because they need a victory to stay in the wildcard playoff race. You know, for San Diego, the big issue for the Chargers would be to get the second seed in the AFC which is going to guarantee them a couple of home games and a bye week, and the bye week right now is more important than anything because they desperately need a bye week to get a lot of banged up players healthy. I think San Diego can win it. Won’t be easy. Tennessee is very physical at home. Tennessee is red hot right now, having won 7 of 8, so, you know, I think the Chargers can win it but it won’t be easy. If they don’t win it, they come back home final game of the season, they’ll get the Washington Redskins who are pretty much, you know, lying facedown on the pavement right now in the midst of a 4 and 10 football season.

MYRLAND: Well, and if you look at the statistics, the teams over the years that have gone in as first and second seeds have much, much better historic performance in Super Bowls and getting to Super Bowls than the other seeded teams, too, so there’s that to keep in the back of our mind.

HAMILTON: Oh, I think it’s a reality. I think that – and it’s not to say that a wildcard team can’t get to the Super Bowl because that, indeed, has happened too, but I think at the end of the day you go through a 17-week grind and you’ve got a lot of guys dinged up and I really think the bye week is critical in terms of not only just emotionally catching a break from the demands of preparation but I think a bye week is hugely important when you’ve got as many people dinged up as they have because what you’re doing in that bye week is they may take part in meetings at the facility but they are not on the practice field. And they get their legs back and, you know, the guys who’ve got sprained ankles have almost ten days to…


HAMILTON: …continue to have therapy, so there’s…


HAMILTON: …lots of positives that comes out of that bye week.

MYRLAND: Well, thank you, Lee Hamilton, for all those thoughts on the bowls games and the Chargers, and I’m sure that you’ll have lots to talk about on XX1090 on your show every afternoon from 3:00 to 7:00, so thanks for bringing us up to date this morning. Our guest, Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton, here on These Days in San Diego. I’m Doug Myrland, sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Thanks for listening.