TAMPA — The Outback Bowl is a perennial sellout, but as Tampa takes on the ACC championship game the next two years and St. Petersburg seeks to add a new bowl this season at Tropicana Field, can the area support three high-profile football games in the span of a month?
"I don't see any negative impact on what we do. I think this is terrific for everybody," said Jim McVay, president and CEO of the Outback Bowl. "We want every sporting event in our market to be successful, to continue to establish the Tampa area as a great, desirable location for events like this."
Organizers from St. Petersburg, as well as ESPN, the Big East and Conference USA, will make a presentation today to the NCAA subcommittee that will vote on whether to approve up to three bowls to join the returning 32-game lineup.
"We're optimistic," said Pete Derzis, senior vice president and general manager for ESPN Regional, which would own and operate the bowl, as it does five others. "We think our presentation and planning meet the criteria the NCAA is requiring from prospective bowl ownership groups."
Two other potential bowls will make presentations to the committee, meeting in South Florida. The others are the Congressional Bowl, which would pit Navy against an ACC team in Washington, and the Rocky Mountain Bowl, which would feature Mountain West and WAC teams in Salt Lake City.
St. Petersburg is thought to be in the best position of the three, because of ESPN's backing and the affiliations with two conferences that have filled their bowl contracts in recent years.
If the bowl is approved, organizers will set up local staff to handle the logistics, including volunteers and coordination of peripheral events. One goal would be finding a title sponsor, which would likely run between $350,000 and $500,000 a year; the other five ESPN-operated bowls — in Honolulu, Las Vegas, Birmingham, Ala., Fort Worth, Texas, and Albuquerque, N.M. — have title sponsors.
The St. Petersburg game would be between Dec. 20 and 23 so as not to compete with the Jan. 1 Outback. Add the ACC title game in early December, and it could be three games in four weeks, potentially with no area teams.
"This community has shown a propensity for handling a lot of sporting events," said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. "It's a great sports market in general, and all the entities have been supportive of each other."
St. Petersburg is seen as a prime bowl home because of its climate and status as a destination that can support an extended trip before and after a bowl game. Asked if tourists can still be sold on beautiful beaches in late December, McVay didn't hesitate.
"You haven't spent much time in the Midwest or Northeast that time of year, have you?" said McVay, an Ohio native. "It's cold and dark and dreary there."