espn bowl games-famous idaho potato bowl

As always, this college football bowl season will feature not only marquee games like the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, or even the Citrus Bowl, but also less esteemed events such as the Cure Bowl, the Camellia Bowl, and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

These lower-tier bowls often draw poor attendance, little media coverage and limited fan interest and have particularly suffered as the College Football Playoff has sapped interest in other games. So how do these obscure bowls survive? Well according to a fascinating USA Today feature, the system is being propped up largely by ESPN Events, a division of ESPN.

Per USA Today, lower-tier bowls are shifting away from non-profit ownership meant to drive tourism, toward a TV-centric model. As attendance at these games has dropped, ESPN Events has swept in to buy up games so they can broadcast them without paying rights fees to a middle man.

The other 13 “for-profit” games are owned by ESPN Events, a division of the cable sports network. That’s crept up considerably since 2005, when ESPN Events owned just three of the 28 bowl games.

“The ownership and operation of a bowl game is something that is more in the wheelhouse of ESPN Events,” said Chuck Sullivan, spokesman for the American Athletic Conference, which owned the Miami Beach Bowl before selling it to ESPN Events. “So as long as we maintained a spot in the bowl on an annual basis, it made sense to sell the game to them.”

USA Today cites the Miami Beach Bowl, which was struggling to draw fans to Marlins Park before ESPN Events bought it, moved it to a soccer stadium Frisco, Texas, renamed it the Frisco Bowl, and sold sponsorship rights. How many people actually show up matters only a little to ESPN, which is chiefly interested in drawing television viewers when it broadcasts the game on December 20.

Such games arguably make more financial sense for ESPN than traditional non-profit bowl organizations because the currency of the realm for ESPN is eyeballs on screens and not so much butts in stadium seats.

“The ESPN bowl games, which account for the growth in bowl games, are essentially made-for-TV events,” Stanford economist Roger Noll told USA TODAY Sports.

The bottom line here is that most of the lower-tier games are likely safe in the near future thanks largely to ESPN’s desire for live events. It seems the network considers the games an affordable way to stock its December schedule with original content.

Per USA Today, 17 of the 40 bowls are now owned by larger for-profit companies: 13 by ESPN, three by pro sports teams and one (the national championship) by College Football Playoff Administration LLC. And as long as those deep-pocketed businesses remain interested, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl et al. could be here to stay.

[USA Today]

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • PAI

    Well, whatever keeps them running I guess.

  • Carter_Burger67

    I get why the bowl people sell to ESPN. They get a dump truck full of cash to eliminate a problem. but there’s too damn many bowls to start with. Some of them just need to go away. And as cash strapped as ESPN is these days, perhaps this is just speeding them to their own demise by spending money they don’t have for bowls that, chances are, aren’t gonna be a big advertiser draw.

  • Mike

    The more games for gamblers to bet on, more power to all

  • P.

    We (SWAC & MEAC) learned this before the 1st Celebration Bowl was ever played. ESPN basically said that only care about the ratings. The game being well attended (33K average over 2 years) is just a feather in the hat of the HBCU schools who pride ourselves in our attendance numbers compared to the other FCS conferences

  • Stuart

    For once corporate greed helps kids out. Without ESPN doing it a lot of seniors would not be able to end their careers in a bowl game. Let’s face it, there’s only three games that counts, the rest are for fun anyhow.

  • John Vicari

    I bet a dollar on each bowl game with my dad. Makes the meaningless bowls meaningful. Plus the bowl games give me something to watch with eggnog.

    • Carter_Burger67

      That’s not a bad idea. I think we are gonna start a new tradition, get hammered and bet on the Talledega Tech verses East Mississippi Community College game in the Toilet Bowl! 😉

      • Dale Moog

        EMCC is a good program they could beat many of these teams that play in bowl games watch last chance U They could beat NM State

  • souvien

    C’mon Four Letter, bring back the Beef-O-Brady Bowl…and the Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl!

  • MrBull

    Thanks to espn we are subjected to ‘crappy, no one cares’ Bowl games featuring 6-6 vs. 7-5 teams…

    • Grumpy Old Man

      MrBull,
      May I suggest you buy a remote control for your TV?
      That way you can watch Honey BooBoo, Steven Seagal: Lawman, any Real Housewives variation, or the 412 Christmas movies on the 142 Hallmark channels.

      • Carter_Burger67

        may I suggest you find a way to remove that stick up your ass.

      • MrBull

        Hey, Grumpy Old Man….find a rocking chair…put your clueless butt in it…and ‘stay in your lane!’…

    • Carter_Burger67

      Or even better 5-7 teams when they can’t find any crappy 6-6 teams. The bowl season used to be something to look forward too.

  • DrewShervin

    The bowl system has been cheapened thanks to ESPN. It’s a joke. The games exist for one reason. People wager on them. If that wasn’t taking place no one would watch. Who wants to see two inferior teams play. No one attends the games. The stadiums are empty.

    • CreightonRabs

      Meanwhile, ESPN’s continued purchase of meaningless bowl games undermines any attempt to establish a true college football playoff system. Fans are pretty much getting screwed either way…

    • BadgerBacker

      If it is bringing in profitable revenue to ESPN, they will keep doing it and since they literally own and operate some of these bowls through ESPN Events.

  • Christopher Monceaux

    I happen to like all these bowl games while we wait for the big ones. They give me something to watch at night and occasionally these games turn into shoot outs.