In normal times, the Military Bowl would know its matchup by now and would be working with the opposing schools to sell tickets.
In normal times, organizers of the Military Bowl, held at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, would already have buttoned up numerous elements of the event and communicated that information to the participating programs.
In normal times, the publicity blitz for the Dec. 28 Military Bowl would be in full swing.
Obviously, these are not normal times and the Military Bowl is in somewhat of a holding pattern as it waits to learn its pairing and postpones other decision until that happens.
Military Bowl officials do know one important aspect about this year’s game. On Monday afternoon it was announced that spectators will not be allowed to attend the contest due to safety restrictions caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Steve Beck, president and executive director of the Military Bowl, said the absence of fans will not detract from the mission of supporting the United Service Organizations (USO) of metropolitan Baltimore and Washington.
“It is disappointing to not have anyone in attendance and we will miss enjoying our festive game day with a full stadium,” Beck said. “However, given the recent measures taken by state and local officials, we feel fortunate to be able to hold the game in Annapolis and continue our mission of raising awareness for our nation’s service members and those who support them.”
Beck chuckled when asked how a bowl game can be financially viable without the revenue from ticket sales.
“That’s a great question. If you can figure out the answer, please let me know,” said Beck, who is also dealing with a reduction in sponsorship income.
Dollars and cents
Most of the supporting sponsors either pulled out or reduced their financial commitment because a significant amount of visibility comes as part of game day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Beck said.
“Upwards of 50 to 60% of revenue comes from ticket sales and that’s wiped out,” Beck said. “If you take a hit on ticket sales and a hit on sponsorship, it’s going to be very, very hard to make any money.”
Last year, the two schools participating in the Military Bowl split the $2,066,990 payout. Beck confirmed the payout will be less this year, largely because ticket sales by each school are a big part of that formula. Both the American Athletic Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference are working with the Military Bowl to determine what this year’s payout should be.
“However, the conferences have expenses to cover as well. And it’s not as though the conferences are rolling in dough, nor the institutions,” Beck said. “Everybody is in the same predicament all the way around, so we all have to work together to come up with the most equitable solution for this year.”
Many bowl organizers have already announced cancellation of their games. The Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara, Calif.), Hawaii Bowl (Halawa), Bahamas Bowl (Nassau), Holiday Bowl (San Diego), Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit), Pinstripe Bowl (New York City), Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas) and Fenway Bowl (Boston) are among 11 that will not be played this year.
Beck said the Military Bowl elected to forge forward despite the bleak economic picture to give more student-athletes an opportunity to play in the postseason.
“For many seniors, this will be the last time they play football,” he said.
This year’s Military Bowl will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 28 and be televised by ESPN. That income, along with the sponsorship from Perspecta, saved the postseason contest this year.
“College football brings great numbers to ESPN, which relies heavily on the bowl season,” Beck said. “Yes, it’s terrible we won’t have spectators. However, the game will be on national television and we expect the ratings to go up. As of right now, we’re the only bowl game being played that day.”
Beck said presenting sponsor Perspecta, a private defense contractor based in Chantilly, Virginia, is living up to the full commitment of its contract.
“Our title sponsor coming through in this pandemic year is very important. Without ESPN and the title sponsor dollars, we would not be having this game,” he said.
Who will play?
As has been the case for several years now, the Military Bowl pits an AAC program against an opponent from the ACC. That pairing would normally have been announced this past Sunday when the final College Football Rankings were released.
However, the various conference championship games were all pushed back in order to create an extra weekend for makeup games to be played. Both the AAC and ACC championship games are being played Saturday and results will dictate the bowl picture for each conference.
If Cincinnati beats Tulsa in the AAC championship game, it will receive the Group of Five bid to a “New Year’s Six Bowl.” Such a scenario would send runner-up Tulsa to the Military Bowl, which is the lone postseason contest affiliated with the American that still has an opening.
“Cincinnati and Tulsa are both ranked, so would be thrilled with either,” Beck said. “Hopefully, we can get a good team to go against either of them to create a compelling matchup that would be exciting for television.”
Filling the ACC slot has become more problematic since multiple schools from that conference have announced they will not accept bowl invitations. Boston College (6-5), Pittsburgh (6-5) and Virginia (5-5) have all decided to skip the postseason to protect their players.
Notre Dame (10-0) and Clemson (9-1) are meeting in the ACC championship game with the winner assured of being selected for the College Football Playoff. Most likely, the loser will play in the Orange Bowl.
It is possible the ACC will also be asked to provide a team for the Outback Bowl, which normally matches opponents from the Big Ten Conference and Southeastern Conference. All indications are the ACC will have to fill in for the Big Ten this year with Miami (8-2) and North Carolina (8-3) the favorites to do so.
N.C. State (8-3), Virginia Tech (5-6) and Wake Forest (4-4) are next in the ACC pecking order.
Because travel amid a pandemic is a concern, conferences have been working with bowls to create matchups that make sense geographically. For instance, the AAC is sending Central Florida to the Boca Raton Bowl, Memphis to the Montgomery Bowl in Alabama and SMU to the Frisco Bowl in Texas.
Beck confirmed the Military Bowl would have considered extending an invitation to Navy (3-7) had it beaten archrival Army this past Saturday.
“Unfortunately, with Army winning this year it put Navy out of reach for our game,” Beck said.
On the ACC side, Virginia Tech would be the school closest in proximity to Washington, D.C. and Annapolis.
“Virginia Tech is supposed to make a decision in the next couple days on whether or not it is going to a bowl game,” Beck said.
North Carolina beat Temple, 55-13, in last year’s bowl game.
Bowl events canceled
Beck believes the two teams selected for the Military Bowl will come to town for a maximum of two nights. That, along with the many restrictions and closings caused by coronavirus, means the typical lineup of Military Bowl events will be shelved.
Normally, both teams tour the national mall and various monuments, visit the Armed Forces Retirement Home or Veterans Administration Hospital, have lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl then attend a Washington Wizards or Capitals game.
Bowl week would usually kick off with a welcome reception for both visiting teams and have a pregame luncheon. The Military Bowl parade, which has become an Annapolis holiday tradition, has gone virtual this year.
“We usually have 14 events over a five-day period. This year, we’ll be lucky to have any,” Beck acknowledged. “It’s a tough year and we just have to make it through. We’ll be back bigger and stronger than ever next year.”
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