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Hospitality companies hope to score with Outback Bowl

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Published:   |   Updated: December 9, 2013 at 08:39 PM

The tackle by the University of South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney that sent University of Michigan running back Vincent Smith’s helmet one way and the football another at the 2013 Outback Bowl produced more than 5 million video views on You Tube.

Other numbers fans might recall: South Carolina 33 - Michigan 28, the final score.

But ask Visit St. Pete Clearwater for input on Outback Bowl metrics and they will cite the number “34,” the number of times the Pinellas visitors bureau’s logo was shown on the international telecast of the Jan. 1, 2013 game.

Or 16,000, the conservative number of room nights Visit Tampa Bay expects the game will generate from groups traveling to Hillsborough County during an otherwise slow holiday season.

Days before the final score is determined for the 2014 Outback Bowl between Louisiana State University and the University of Iowa on Jan. 1, area businesses will tally the score for how well the game provides its annual boost to the local economy.

Tampa’s Outback Bowl Organization estimates a whopping $1 billion regional economic impact that visitors have generated at hotels, restaurants, shops and other activities since the inaugural game was launched in 1986 as the Hall of Fame Bowl.

The 2014 LSU-Iowa matchup announced Sunday night should pay off if Outback Bowl promoters can entice LSU fans disappointed with their team’s 9-3 record and facing an unranked 8-4 Iowa team to make the trip.

Since Iowa did not play in a bowl last year, it might be easier to attract their fans to sunny Florida. Plus, Iowa beat LSU the last time they played, in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.

“We would expect both of the (2014) schools to generate strong numbers since both Iowa and LSU have active alumni associations and strong fan bases,” said Liana Lopez, director of communications for Visit Tampa Bay.

The Outback Bowl helps because the holiday season is slow, especially for meetings and conventions, Lopez said. Hotels generally do fair New Years Eve, particularly if it falls on or near a weekend, she added.

David Downing, deputy director of the Pinellas visitors bureau, said holiday business is generally slower for tourism in general.

“So we’re happy to have both the room nights from the bowl and the media exposure the game and the events surrounding it give the area,” Downing said.

Outback Bowl officials choose teams from the Southeastern and Big 10 conferences once the conferences’ higher ranked teams are selected for Bowl Championship Series games. Orlando’s Capital One Bowl gets the next choice of SEC and Big 10 teams, followed by the Outback Bowl.

Bowl attendance the past six years has left empty seats at Raymond James Stadium, with last year’s game drawing 54,527 fans to the 65,857 stadium, still more than last year’s Sugar Bowl in New Orleans which drew 54,178. Bowl attendance nationwide was down 2.1 percent last year.

But LSU and Iowa, like South Carolina and Michigan last year and Michigan State and Georgia the year before, are likely to satisfy hoteliers expectations, unlike 2011 when Penn State faced the University of Florida.

While the Gators are local fan favorites, anytime they are invited to the Outback Bowl, such as in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2011, many hoteliers groan at the loss of long distance visitors.

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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