The first few editions of the college football game that was previously known as the Eagle Bank Bowl might be called less than auspicious.
Upon its 2008 debut, the contest was played in Washington, D.C.’s, RFK Stadium, which is located in a neighborhood that lacks amenities to relatively sparse crowds; all told, while it’s great to have a bowl game to market, the Eagle Bank Bowl wasn’t generating much sizzle.
With a new approach in order, moving the game to an updated, but underused, stadium in Annapolis, rebranding it as the Military Bowl and marketing a three-day event around the state capital’s active social scene, was easy.
How did it go? Its second-year event on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2014, marked the first sell-out at the 34,000-seat-plus U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, and made quite a few dollars, too: about $17 million in economic impact, in fact, according to the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB).
Football and More
That $17 million figure has created a swell of optimism among all concerned as they continue working toward making the 2015 edition of the Military Bowl, which pits an Atlantic Coast Conference (AAC) team against a squad from the American Athletic Conference (AAC, which the U.S. Naval Academy has joined for the upcoming season) its most successful to date.
“We’re finally getting the message across that this is really the military’s bowl,” said Steve Beck, president and executive director of the D.C. Bowl Committee, adding that part of what made the recent contest, which featured Virginia Tech and the University of Cincinnati, so successful was “the town and community really embraced the game and all of the other events that surrounded it.”
Beck noted Military Bowl Eve, the 5K run (which was new for the 2014 game), the parade, and tailgating with live music, as well as the representation of the five military sectors and the five Medal of Honor recipients, as what cemented the success of the three-day event, in addition to the draw of a holiday weekend in and around Annapolis.
“When we make bids to schools to play in the game, we look for the best match-up possible,” Beck said, noting that the Military Bowl has the sixth selection of the teams after the playoffs in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), as well as a regional at-large pick with the AAC, “as well as a team that travels well.”
Spend by Sector
After a great second year in Annapolis that followed a solid first year (which featured the University of Maryland playing its last ACC football game against Marshall University), Connie Del Signore, president and CEO of the CVB, is contemplating how to further capitalize on the new-ish attraction’s popularity.
“We’re trying to make this the best winter event we have and to generate more revenue for our local businesses,” said Del Signore. “As soon as we find out what day of the week the  game is going to be played on, we’ll put our heads together and see what else we can do.”
Another facet of the Military Bowl’s success was reported by the local hotels, which did well during the notoriously slow Christmas week. According to Nashville-based Smith Travel Research, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County’s average hotel room occupancy for the Thursday–Saturday of Military Bowl weekend was 50.4%, compared to 41.3% in 2013; the average daily rate for the same three-day period was $85.55, compared to $78.17 in for the same period the previous year.
Delving deeper into the numbers using Destination Marketing Association International’s Event Impact Calculator, the CVB determined Military Bowl attendees accounted for more than 32,000 hotel room nights, resulting in more than $4 million in lodging costs.
Military Bowl fans also spent more than $2.6 million on transportation, more than $3 million on food and beverages, and more than $3.3 million each on retail and recreational opportunities. And the event directly supported nearly 8,000 jobs.
All Around Town
Those numbers didn’t surprise Michael Galway, partner at Galway Bay, in Annapolis. He estimated that its revenues at the Maryland Avenue haunt rose “about 20%” from normal during Military Bowl weekend. “Given that we often have events in Annapolis, that’s better than we expected and a bigger boost than we normally get,” he said.
That type of talk was common around town. “The more people become aware of the game, there will be more interest,” Del Signore said. “For these first couple of years of playing the game in Annapolis, the game’s organizers have done an amazing job of working with the city, its businesses and the CVB in pulling off a dynamic, successful event.
“And also know,” she said, “that this is business that would not be here otherwise. That’s why it’s important that we’ve made it much bigger than a one-day event.”
Wait ’Til This Year
Deputy Athletic Director Eric Ruden of Navy Sports was also among the many participants who were pleased with the game, but not just because of the economic tally. His observations were more to do with the upgrades that have been made to U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, which opened in 1959.
The enhancements, which began in 2002, have included new permanent seating in both end zones, two HD scoreboards, club level seats, and hospitality areas and lounges, among others. So, the Military Bowl was a win for the U.S. Naval Academy, too.
“We’re building a good relationship with Steve Beck and his group. They have done a great job with the Medal of Honor recipients, and they have also given tickets to a number of military organizations, notably the USO.”
When discussing the Military Bowl’s success, it’s important to bear in mind that the state’s two highest profile college football programs — the University of Maryland (the Foster Farms Bowl, Palo Alto, Calif.) and Navy (the Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego) — played in bowl games in NFL stadia, but demand for tickets was so weak that they weren’t offered for the upper deck in either case.
That raises the question of what might happen if Navy is ever selected to play in the Military Bowl, on its home field.
“Starting with the coming season, Navy will be in the AAC,” said Beck, “so we’re hoping for the opportunity to invite them to the game.”