A Look at This Year’s Upcoming Bowl Season with FBA Executive Director Wright Waters
With the 2016-17 “bowl season” soon to get underway, Football Bowl Association executive director Wright Waters communicated his thoughts to FBA Communications on several subjects, notably attendance, the bowl experiences for student-athletes, game coverage on several platforms, the health of the industry, and teams going bowling for the first time.
Looking at the games, which ones stand out to you the most
“All games are important to someone. You may have a game with 30,000 in the stands or you may have a game with 100,000 in the stands, but ultimately to the teams, schools and fans, their game is huge. TV ratings remain stable. As attendances are higher for some games more than others -- the folks watching and the community putting on the game – it is the most important game anywhere. So rather than focus on any one game, just sit back and enjoy the best of college football.”
What are some things that the bowl games’ television partners [ESPN/ABC, CBS, FOX, ASN] are doing to create viewing interest in all games?
“Forty-one games in 21 days is just the beginning of the coverage. Nightly coverage in the news broadcasts, the blogs, tweets, Facebook postings, newspaper coverage, special shows leading up to games, coaches’ shows from the bowl site, they all contribute to dominating the month of December as the most exciting month of the year for college football fans.”
Because of the bowls’ increased emphasis on marketing their tickets, are you confident in-house attendance will rise this season?
“Attendance has been on the increase the past three years and last year was the first time we could compare years and show an actual increase over the past year. Some like to base their assessment on average attendance but that is really not fair as several of the bowls added in the past two years don’t have seating equal to the overall average attendance. So even if they sell out, the average may go down but the number in attendance will still rise. We are constantly working with bowls to adjust price points, local ticket sales and school packages. For bowl staffs ticket selling is a 365 day per year job.”
The term ‘student-athlete experience’ at bowl games is often talked about, but not always explained very well. Would you describe what the ‘experience’ should be all about for players, coaches and staff, many of whom have never visited a city or region previously?
“Bowl communities are unique and each offers a special opportunity to learn something new or experience something personally. Intercollegiate athletics is a component of higher education. Let me say that again because it cannot be overstated: Intercollegiate athletics is a component of higher education.
“Anything a bowl can do to enhance a student-athlete’s view of the world is important. That might be going to a Broadway show in New York City, the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery or the Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix. Learning is best when we move out of the textbook and actually experience seeing, touching and feeling. Maybe the number one experience is the opportunity to play in and enjoy a bowl together with teammates. It builds a special bond that will last forever.”
In your role as FBA Executive Director, you work closely with the men and women who are responsible for putting these games on. What has been your ongoing message to them?
“Nobody does hospitality better than bowl staffs! With various experience surveys reporting satisfied and very satisfied at the 90%+ rate, that is a great statement on bowls representing their communities. But we can’t rest on our laurels. We must always be pushing the envelope each year to find ways to continually improve the product. What is it that the consumer wants and what can we do to exceed their expectations?”
Several teams will either go bowling for the first time, or are returning to bowl-eligible status. How good is this for the bowl schedule as a whole?
“There is nothing more exciting that seeing a team experience its first bowl trip. Student-athletes are so special and so appreciative of the efforts of community volunteers. The opportunity to have a new experience with teammates, it is just special. Not sure what it means to the bowl schedule but I am certain it benefits college football by increasing interest and a team’s desire to go bowling each year.”
The bowl calendar runs from December 17 through January 9. No new bowls have been added or deducted from the 41 total we now have. Has this allowed some of the newer games the chance to solidify their standing within their communities?
“I think that is correct. We have monitored closely the most recent additions from the learning curve between first announcing the game’s formation and year two. We are well served by having healthy games. Sometimes we hear about too many bowls but I always answer ‘Too many bowls for who?’ Certainly the teams playing in the games are excited to be there and appreciative of the opportunity.”
Aside from the number of bowl games increasing, bringing high-quality FBS competition to over 30 different areas/communities, how do you assess the health of the industry at the moment, and how it bodes for the future?
“It depends on your measuring stick. Interest is at an all-time high. But it is a very fragile financial model that has so many variables. Team selection, weather, local recognition, guarantees to teams continue to increase and ultimately the increased cost impacts local community philanthropic activities.”
The 2016-17 regular season ranks among the most memorable in recent years. Are you confident the various bowl matchups upcoming will maintain a similar level of excitement?
“No doubt in my mind. Too many talented people are working to make this the best bowl season ever!”