Published on November 7, 2007 by Philip Poole  

The inaugural Bowl in 2006 poured about $4 million in the Birmingham economy, according to Mark Meadows, executive director of the bowl game.

Speaking to the Nov. 7 quarterly meeting of the Samford Business Network, Meadows called the game a success for the city and fans, as well as for ESPN Regional Television, owner of the game.

"The game was a great showcase for Birmingham to the national audience on ESPN," Meadows noted. "With the support of the community, we know we can continue to make this a great game."

The city of Birmingham has no financial risk since ESPN owns the game and assumes all of the financial investment. Meadows noted that the Music City Bowl had provided more than $115 million to the Nashville economy in its nine-year existence.

Meadows said that about 14,000 of the 28,000 fans who attended the game were from out-of-state. Several Birmingham hotels reported 100 percent occupancy during game week at a time when most hotels are only 6-12 percent occupied. The 2006 game featured East Carolina University and the University of South Florida. The teams used Samford's Seibert Stadium for practice during game week.

In addition to the economic impact, the game provided $25,000 to the Crippled Children's Foundation. "It is important that we be good corporate citizens in this process," Meadows said. In 2006, representatives from both teams spent time visiting patients at Children's Hospital in Birmingham.

The 2007 game will be played Dec. 22 at Birmingham's historic Legion Field and will again feature teams from Conference USA and the Big East Conference.

Meadows speculated that the Conference USA representative probably would be the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Central Florida or the University of Memphis, all schools within easy travel distance of Birmingham. "We have asked that this year's representative be from the conference's Eastern Division," he added.

Possible opponents from the Big East Conference are the University of Louisville, Rutgers University or the University of Cincinnati.

"Of course, we'd be pleased if Louisville is the representative since that is the home of Papa Johns Pizza," Meadows said.

Meadows defended the bowl system for NCAA Division I schools. "With playoffs in other sports, you end up with only one champion," he said. "With 32 bowl games and 64 participating teams, you end up with 32 champions at the end of the year."

Bowl games are for the players, coaches and fans, and most schools who participate in bowl games cite increased donations, licensing options and spikes in enrollment as benefits for playing in a post-season bowl game.

A new feature for this year's game will be a street festival in Birmingham's Five Points South on Friday before the game.  Several Birmingham organizations are working together to feature a children's fun zone, pep rally and parade.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.