In 2013, organizers of the Military Bowl made a bold decision to move g the game from Washington to Annapolis.
What began life in 2008 as the EagleBank Bowl was held at crumbling RFK Stadium for five years. When that ancient facility was no longer viable as a host site, organizers relocated the Military Bowl to the more modern Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The District remained the host city, while the game was shifted 32 miles south to Annapolis. That makes the Military Bowl unique among college football postseason games, as the teams and their personnel stay in Washington, where various related events are held.
So far, the arrangement appears to be working well for both the Military Bowl and the city of Annapolis.
The Duke Blue Devils (8-4) and University of Central Florida Knights (9-4) will square off in the Military Bowl at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
The game hasn’t been played since 2019, canceled in 2020 due to a lack of available teams during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic and last year’s game between East Carolina and Boston College was scrapped after a COVID-19 outbreak among players.
“Annapolis is just an ideal location to hold a bowl game because of all the available amenities,” said Steve Beck, president and executive director of the Military Bowl. “You can go downtown and walk around to various bars and restaurants. You can check out City Dock and do some shopping. There are plenty of hotels in close proximity to the stadium. We didn’t have all those elements in D.C.”
Attendance figures for the Military Bowl at the 34,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium have been consistently strong and far better than at RFK Stadium. Announced attendance for five of the seven games held in Annapolis has exceeded 30,000, with three of the contests called sellouts.
In 2015, when standout quarterback Keenan Reynolds led Navy past Pittsburgh, the Military Bowl drew a record crowd of 36,352.
“Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium speaks to the essence of our game,” Beck said. “It is a facility that honors the military and fallen service members. It’s the right-sized venue for our game and we have a great partnership with the Naval Academy Alumni Association, which is supportive in so many ways.”
The Naval Academy Athletic Association played a part in the founding of the EagleBank Bowl, which became the Military Bowl. At the time, Navy football, then playing as an independent, was looking for a bowl destination after becoming eligible for the postseason in 2008.
Navy played Wake Forest in the inaugural game held at RFK Stadium with NAAA working closely with bowl organizers and corporate partners to make the event a success.
When Beck and the Military Bowl Board of Directors determined the game needed to be moved, that relationship with NAAA was a factor in the decision to come to Annapolis.
Beck pointed out that the NAAA helps the Military Bowl control costs through a “flexible agreement” that takes into account ticket sales and other revenue.
“There is no question this game would not be here in Annapolis without [Navy Athetlic Director] Chet Gladchuk and NAAA,” Beck said. “They were there right from the beginning and willing to help in whatever way possible.”
Gladchuk said the organization is committed to sustaining the partnership with the Military Bowl organization.
“We’re proud to host the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. It’s an opportunity to utilize the stadium in a showcase manner and to bring positive exposure to the city of Annapolis and the Naval Academy,” Gladchuk said.
“This bowl game is just another example of a way the NAAA and the academy can support the local community.”
Stephen Rice, economic development manager for the city of Annapolis, reports that the Military Bowl is the catalyst for approximately $40 million in local business revenue and supports roughly 14,000 jobs. It generates an estimated $800,000 in local tax revenue with much of that coming from the approximately 32,000 hotel rooms that are used.
The Military Bowl has a direct partnership with The Westin Annapolis, located down the street from the stadium. That hotel, located at Westgate Circle, had a high occupancy rate for Tuesday night with rooms listed at $364.
Whenever teams that boast a strong traveling fan base, such as East Carolina and Virginia Tech, have participated in the Military Bowl, all the hotels in the Annapolis area have benefited.
“I can’t say enough about the Military Bowl,” Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said. “Not only does it showcase our great city, but it also brings in all these great people who fill up the restaurants and hotels. Many of these folks would never have come to Annapolis if it wasn’t for the game. It’s very noticeable because you see people on the streets sporting their colors, and you know they are here for that event. All in all, it’s just a huge uptick for the city.”
Military Bowl week began with the Central Florida and Duke teams arriving in Washington, settling in and then taking a bus tour to the National Mall and monuments along with the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Events shifted to Annapolis on Tuesday with the “Miracle on West Street” celebration that featured the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales and live musical entertainment. Wednesday’s activities feature the Military Bowl parade through downtown Annapolis followed by the official tailgate festival.
Buckley said those special events involve the community and generate excitement.
“Having the parade, the Clydesdales and all the other festivities that surround the game are awesome,” he said. “I hope this bowl game continues for quite some time because it’s one of the best things in the city.”
Lisa Bolter, who along with her husband Brian owns Dry 85 and t Red Red Wine Bar, said there is a noticeable bump in business the night before and day of the Military Bowl. Both Main Street restaurants will open earlier than usual on Wednesday to take advantage of the foot traffic generated by the parade.
“When the teams involved are within driving distance, we typically see an uptick the day before,” Bolter said. “Obviously, the parade brings people into downtown. We definitely expect to see some good crowds this week.”
Kurt Beall, owner of Heroes Pub in west Annapolis, said his establishment does brisk business before and after the game.
“We definitely see an increase in traffic since we’re so close to the stadium,” Beall said. “It’s absolutely beneficial to Annapolis to have a college football bowl game played here.”
For the mayor and officials with the local visitors bureau, Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, there is a residual benefit that cannot be measured. Visiting football fans that come to the area for the first time because of the Military Bowl may well return after experiencing the charm of historic Annapolis.
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