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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
Joe Brown Columns

The name of the game is tourism

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When I first saw the headline, I thought it was a joke: The Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg will be known as the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl beginning in the 2014 season. The game will be played Dec. 26 at Tropicana Field. It will feature teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the American Athletic Conference. It will televised by (who else?) ESPN.

And I thought that sponsorship names for bowl games couldn’t get any crazier. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Before Beef O’Brady’s sponsored St. Petersburg’s contribution to the college football postseason, it was the MagicJack Bowl.

BitPay Executive Chairman Tony Gallippi said in a statement that sponsorship of the bowl game is an important opportunity for his fledgling company and a good way to reach its target group: tech-savvy types between 19 and 40.

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Well, that leaves me out. The new sponsor, which is a cybercurrency, also will be a stark reminder of another way in which college athletes won’t be getting paid for their efforts.

What’s also going to make this bowl game unique is that you don’t have to pay for the $40 tickets in cash. They’ll be available for purchase with Bitcoin through BitPay’s processing services.

It also appears that holding bowl games in baseball-centric stadiums is becoming a trend. The Miami Beach Bowl will make its debut in December in the ballpark where the Miami Marlins play.

In all, there are going to be 39 college football bowl games this year. Only three of them will help determine the national champion. While I look at the rest as meaningless postseason exhibition games, the bowl committees see them as licenses to print money, or in the case of the St. Petersburg bowl, use bitcoins. Aside from the ESPN and sponsor money, the participating schools are required to sell a minimum number of tickets, which is why so many of them lose money by accepting a bowl bid. It makes no sense to me, but this is today’s reality.

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I’ve come to accept bowl games for what they are: chamber-of-commerce events designed to boost tourism. A football game is necessary, but secondary to the real purpose. St. Petersburg is as good a place as any to spend the holidays, and certainly better than others where the players are forced to spend time away from their families. Fans of the teams will have to watch them play in a domed baseball stadium, but they’ll have Gulf beaches to offset it.

For years, the bowl cartel argued that a playoff to determine a national champion would destroy the “tradition” of bowl games.

It’s hard to establish a tradition when the sponsors change every three years or so. It just shows that big-time amateur sports are all about money and TV contracts.

I’ve given up on my dream of a 16-team college football playoff, which the smaller teams have been doing for years.

Despite my pessimistic attitude about bowl games and the system that enables them, I wish the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl success. I won’t pretend, however, that the game itself will mean anything. Since it’s mainly about tourism, it doesn’t have to.

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