As Bowl season kicks off today in earnest with five of a total of 39 college football postseason contests, there’s one game that gets its start tonight. That’s the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, AL. This certainly doesn’t have the history of the Rose Bowl, the Peach Bowl or even the Belk Bowl.
The Camellia Bowl is the creation of ESPN and it pits Bowling Green of the MAC against South Alabama of the Sun Belt Conference. Both were barely bowl-eligible as Bowling Green finished with a 7-6 record while South Alabama was 6-6.
This matchup might not have the sex appeal as the College Football Playoff semifinals Alabama-Ohio State or Florida State-Oregon, but for ESPN, this helps to fill programming as we enter Christmas week.
For Montgomery, AL, the Camellia Bowl is a big deal and the city is rolling out the red carpet for Bowling Green and South Alabama. And for the MAC and Sun Belt Conferences, which don’t get as much TV exposure as the other BCS conferences, this is an opportunity to get the national spotlight to themselves. According to the New York Times, both conferences requested ESPN to give them a bowl to play in and viola! In comes the Camellia Bowl which is named for Alabama’s state flower. It’s true.
With ESPN owning the Camellia Bowl (and 10 other bowl games, by the way), it controls the event by where it’s played, who plays, who advertises and when it’s played. It’s actually less expensive than buying rights to a game where ESPN has to find a way to make its money back. In this case, after expenses of renting the Cramton Bowl for tonight’s game, hotels, paying the schools to play in the game, production costs, marketing, ESPN can make some pretty good cash in finding a sponsor (Raycom Media), selling ads and also other incidentals where it can bring into its coffers.
Overall, the Worldwide Leader won’t lose money on the Camellia Bowl unless ratings prove otherwise. Among the other games ESPN owns are the Armed Forces Bowl, Birmingham Bowl, Boca Raton Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, St. Petersburg Bowl and Texas Bowl. Plus ESPN owns several Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday college basketball tournaments, all to provide programming for its vast family of networks.
And while we might forget or not watch all of the 39 bowl games of which the ESPN family airs 38 (the Sun Bowl is on CBS), the college football postseason does draw viewers although the numbers for 2013-14 were down from the year before. Still, football is still a powerful ratings draw and knowing that, ESPN continues to create bowl games so it can program its networks and bring more exposure to conferences.