‘SEVEN ON SEVEN’ SERIES WITH BRUCE BINKOWSKI, CHAIRMAN, FOOTBALL BOWL ASSOCIATION
November 3, 2015
Outside of Dan Fouts, Tony Gwynn and Ted Williams, Bruce Binkowski might be the most well-known sports figure in San Diego. Through the course of five+ decades, Binkowski carved a career that eventually led to him overseeing the hugely-successful Holiday Bowl game during his 38-year career. Now a consultant to the game he helped found, Binkowski reflected on his multiple media and bowl experiences with FBA Communications.
Look for ‘Seven On Seven’ regularly on the new FootballBowlAssociation.com website.
You are extremely identified with college and pro sports in greater San Diego. As you rose through the ranks, who were some of your earliest influences that ultimately propelled you into the bowl business?
“I began my career in the late 1960s and was fortunate in my early years to be associated with some amazing, talented individuals. All of these people had long and successful careers in their respective sports and were well respected by their peers: Pete Newell with the NBA San Diego Rocket; Max McNab, General Manager of the Western Hockey League San Diego Gulls; and Eddie Leishman, longtime minor league baseball general manager and also the GM of the major league San Diego Padres. I worked with Alex Groza, who was a true gentleman , during my tenure with the San Diego Conquistadors of the American Basketball Association and with Bob Breitbard, owner of the local basketball and hockey franchises. All of these gentlemen, in their own unique way, were major influences preparing me for my 38-year career in the bowl business.”
As public address announcer for San Diego State, the Chargers, Padres and numerous other teams, what are some of the highlights of your announcing career? How were you able to parlay this career into another one with the bowl?
“I tell people how fortunate I was to work with the many talented people I have been associated with over the years. I could say the same thing about my public address announcing career. What an honor to be able to announce over 2,500 sporting events including the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs football and basketball. Along the way I also have worked hockey, soccer, tennis and track meets. I have been the public address announcer for two World Series, two Super Bowl games, a Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and several college post-season basketball tournaments. The highlights are too numerous to mention, but one that stands out is the 1984 baseball playoff game between the Padres and the Chicago Cubs. San Diego first baseman Steve Garvey hit a dramatic home run to win the game and helping the Padres get to their first World Series. That was one of the most exciting sporting events from start to finish I have ever been privileged to attend. Of course, working a Super Bowl and a World Series is always thrilling. Spending all of the years being involved in many major sporting events as a PA announcer helped prepare me for our two big events, the Holiday Bowl and Poinsettia Bowl.”
Why has San Diego been such a great locale for, first, the Holiday Bowl, and then the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls ???
“San Diego is such a great destination location. Who wouldn’t want to travel to our region in December to watch their team play football? And of course, for visiting fans, the beaches, golf courses, mountains, deserts, attractions such as Sea World and the San Diego Zoo make for a great time. And did I mention the weather? There is no better weather anywhere than San Diego in December. The student- athletes are also able to enjoy San Diego during their bowl week experience which includes a luncheon and tour of an active Navy aircraft carrier. If you live in a winter climate, San Diego is an awesome December travel destination.”
From its inception, the Holiday Bowl quickly gained a reputation as one of “America’s Most Exciting Bowl Games”. How did this come about and what did you do to foster and nurture this?
“The inaugural Holiday Bowl was played in 1978, featuring Navy vs. BYU. Navy won a close decision 23-16 so we decided for year two we would label the Holiday Bowl as “America’s Most Exciting Bowl Game.” The 1979 game was decided in the final seconds (a 38-37 Indiana win over BYU), the 1980 game was determined by a Hail Mary pass by Jim McMahon to give BYU a 46-45 victory over SMU and the 1981 game was a two- point victory. So the “America’s Most Exciting Bowl Game” handle was something we continued to hang our hat on. By the way, nine of the first ten Holiday Bowl games were decided by a touchdown or less. In the 38-year history of the Holiday Bowl, the outcome of 21 games has not been decided until midway through the fourth quarter.”
How did your background as Holiday Bowl PR director prepare you for your eventual move to assistant director, then associate director, and finally Executive Director?
“When the Holiday Bowl was created in 1978 I was the first paid employee as the publicity director. Everything that year, of course, was a first time experience. Being part of something from the ground floor and watching the growth of the game is very rewarding. Over the years I moved from handling the PR to marketing and promotion, on to assistant, associate and then eventually Executive Director in 2001. Everything I did prepared me for the ED role and even then, I learned something new every day. Having worked at every level of the Holiday Bowl gave me the knowledge of knowing what it takes to put on a successful bowl game with a small staff and all of the events surrounding the game. It also helped me when we made the decision to start up a second bowl game, the Poinsettia Bowl, in 2005 and what we had to do to operate two bowl games.”
“Every bowl director is different and has a unique management style. The Executive Director has to have a big picture approach, continually look ahead for issues that may have an impact on the bowl moving forward and he or she must also have confidence in their staff to get the job done. All of the successful directors I have known over the years are also excellent public speakers, know how to work well with their very important volunteers and also have strong relationships with school and conference administrators, sponsors and television partners.”
During your tenure, the bowl industry has grown immeasurably. Other than the number of total games, what are the biggest differences now from when you got started??
“When I started in 1978 there was no such thing as a title sponsor of a bowl game. Today, that is a critical piece in making sure your bowl game is successful. When we started the Holiday Bowl we talked about the importance of an economic impact on the local community. That has not changed over the years and in fact, is even more important to communities who see the bowl games as an important economic driver in a very slow time of the year for the tourism industry. The growing number of games, while it is great for each community lucky enough to host a bowl game, makes the television piece of the puzzle more complicated as every bowl is trying to get the best possible time slot for viewership and the best possible date for fan travel.”