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5 reasons Austin hasn’t hosted a college football bowl game — and likely never will

Darrell K Royal stadium
A college bowl game at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium? Not likely. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics

Closing the 2013 season with a whimper, the University of Texas Longhorns fell to the University of Oregon Ducks on December 30 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Thousands of fans witnessed Mack Brown coach his last football game for the Longhorns and Case McCoy throw his last pass in a UT uniform.

The Horns and the Ducks duked it out at San Antonio’s Alamodome, almost 80 miles south of Austin. Approximately 65,000 tickets were sold for the Alamo Bowl, which injects nearly $40 million into the San Antonio economy each year. By comparison, South by Southwest events in 2013 poured $218 million into the Austin economy, while UT’s seven home football games in 2013 generated at least $100 million.

San Antonio is one of five major Texas cities that host college football bowl games each year. Austin, however, isn’t on the list. In fact, Austin has never hosted a bowl game, despite the fact that UT’s Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium seats more than 100,000 people.

Here are five reasons why Austin hasn’t hosted a college football bowl game — and probably never will.

1. The financial risk is big.

A bowl game in Austin probably would have to be created from scratch, meaning an upfront investment of millions of dollars. It’s pretty unlikely that Austin could snatch a bowl game from another city, even if Austin dangled super-appealing incentives.

“The winning formula for bowl games is all about the matchup of teams that attract attention and traveling fans,” says Matt Payne, executive director of the Austin Sports Commission.

2. The financial payoff is iffy.

Austin wouldn’t attract a major game like the Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl, so it would wind up with a lower-tier bowl game.

"Would a minor bowl game increase Austin’s brand? I think Austin does pretty well without a bowl game.” — economist Todd Jewell

“I can tell you that a minor bowl in Austin wouldn’t generate much economic activity. These games don’t generate much extra economic activity in any city,” says sports economist Todd Jewell, chair of the Department of Economics at the University of North Texas. “No matter what the official line is, a minor bowl game is likely to cost more than it generates.”

Jewell said the real payoff for a city hosting a bowl game is branding — the media exposure from the TV broadcast and associated news coverage.

“So the real question here is: Would a minor bowl game increase Austin’s brand? I think Austin does pretty well without a bowl game,” Jewell says.

3. The competition is heavy.

In 2013-14, college football teams squared off in 35 bowl games (including the national championship). Four brand-new games are on tap for the 2014-15 season: the Miami Beach Bowl and the Boca Raton Bowl, both in South Florida; the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama; and the Bahamas Bowl in, you guessed it, the Bahamas.

In all, 39 bowl games will appear on the 2014-15 schedule.

“There are so many bowl games now,” Payne says. “Most of them already have a partnership with the power conferences [such as the Big 12 and SEC]. A new bowl game would be far down the pecking order in securing the right matchup from the attractive conferences.”

Nonetheless, Mark Conrad, associate professor of sports business law at Fordham University, emphasized that college football is a “religion” to fans, and that’s reflected in the abundance of bowl games.

“You’d think there are too many,” Conrad told CNBC, “but that hasn’t been the case.”

4. The fans aren’t flocking.

In recent years, attendance figures for most bowl games haven’t been that impressive, Payne noted. Indeed, average bowl attendance sank to 48,793 in the 2013-14 season, the lowest level since 1978-79, according to SportsBusiness Daily. This season also marked the third consecutive year of dwindling attendance for bowl games.

Three bowl games saw record-low attendance in 2013-14, according to SportsBusiness Daily, and two of them are played in the Lone Star State: the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Texas Bowl.

5. The TV lineup is packed.

Lucrative TV contracts with networks like ESPN and ABC already are in place for existing bowl games, according to Payne. It would be challenging to squeeze another bowl game into the TV schedule, particularly since four new bowls are launching in 2014.

Here are the five bowl games that Texas hosts every year:

Texas Bowl

Venue: Reliant Stadium
City: Houston
Attendance: 32,000 (2013)
Annual economic impact: $30 million
Website: thetexasbowl.com

Valero Alamo Bowl

Venue: Alamodome
City: San Antonio
Attendance: 66,000 (2013)
Annual economic impact: $40 million
Website: alamobowl.com

Hyundai Sun Bowl

Venue: Sun Bowl
City: El Paso
Attendance: 48,000 (2013)
Annual economic impact: $14 million to $17 million
Website: sunbowl.org

Heart of Dallas Bowl

Venue: Cotton Bowl Stadium
City: Dallas
Attendance: 38,000 (2014)
Annual economic impact: $20 million
Website: theheartofdallasbowl.com

AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic

Venue: AT&T Stadium
City: Arlington
Attendance: 72,700 (2014)
Annual economic impact: $30 million
Website: attcottonbowl.com

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