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Music City Bowl Numbers Could Adversely Impact Vandy’s Future Bowl Chances

gfx - honest opinionMusic City Bowl officials announced today that last December’s game between Vanderbilt and NC State had a $13.9 million positive impact on the city of Nashville.  The problem, however, is the fact that that’s the third smallest economic boom since the bowl began matching SEC and ACC teams back in 2006.

Why might the money have been down?  Uh, Vanderbilt is located in Nashville, of course.  Bowls were initially started as a means of bringing tourists into touristy destinations in non-touristy times of year.  To an extent, that’s still the goal for bowl and city officials.  And when it comes to tourism, grabbing a local team never makes sense.  Indeed, fewer than 30,000 out-of-towners traveled to Nashville to watch the Commodores and Wolfpack butt helmets.

Last year’s game ranked #3 on the list of least-profitable bowls for the city since ’06 and we bet you can guess which one finished dead last.  Yep, the 2008 Music City Bowl which also featured Vanderbilt.  That game brought in just $9.9 million for the city and just 17,000 visitors as the Dores were matched up with faraway Boston College.

Some bowls hold their nose on the travel numbers in exchange for creating a good television matchup.  What’s more valuable — bringing thousands of fans into Nashville for one game or promoting Nashville as a tourist destination in front of millions of television viewers?  But the television numbers for last year’s Music City Bowl were also lackluster.  Its 1.62 national household rating was the game’s lowest in seven years.

The problem for Vanderbilt is one of reputation.  James Franklin and the VU administration are having to build a program out of the ashes of dozens of failed football seasons.  Until Vandy gets a better name, it likely won’t become a major television draw (the school also lacks the massive alumni base of many of the nation’s larger state schools).  Bowl committees know what kind of television draw Vanderbilt is.  They know, too, about the smaller alumni base.  Those issues are largely to blame for the Commodores being trapped inside the Volunteer State — Music City Bowl twice, Liberty Bowl once — during their recent uptick in success.

To continue to move forward and grow Vanderbilt into an honest-to-God football program, VU officials need to loudly trumpet the fact that the school sold out its allotment of tickets for the 2011 Liberty Bowl.  Otherwise future bowl committees looking at sub-standard TV ratings and generic stories regarding low economic impact — even though its unfair to blame Vandy for not bringing fans into its own city — might decide to pass on inviting the black and gold to their party.

Northwestern has traveled the same road.  Ditto Stanford.

Franklin and Vanderbilt have made tremendous strides in the past two years alone.  But there are further issues to overcome before the school can start to land invitations to top-notch, out-of-state bowl games.  And until that happens, Vandy’s success story will remain more of a regional story than a national one.

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