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VOL. 46 | NO. 48 | Friday, December 2, 2022

Music City Bowl: Top-tier event or postseason yawn?

Its fate rests with expanded college playoffs, enclosed stadium

By Tom Wood

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Polished or tarnished silver? Amid the many questions surrounding the building of a $2.1 billion enclosed stadium on the east bank of the Cumberland River, that’s the one Music City Bowl officials are trying to answer ahead of this month’s silver anniversary postseason game at Nissan Stadium.

If the Metro Council members vote to invest in a 1.7 million-square-foot facility that would seat approximately 60,000 – the Metro Sports Authority voted to approve the proposed stadium term sheet at its Dec. 1 meeting – the future of the Music City Bowl appears to be bright and shiny with the potential to someday host a College Football Playoff national championship.

On the other hand, if those same city leaders decide to renovate 23-year-old Nissan Stadium to the tune of $1.95 billion over the next 17 years, the Music City Bowl’s future could be as worn as the existing facility, possibly casting doubt on its future.

Scott Ramsey, president and CEO of both the Nashville Sports Council and the Transperfect Music City Bowl, says the bowl’s contract with the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten and ESPN has three years remaining after the Dec. 31 silver anniversary clash.

The end of that Music City Bowl contract would coincide with the official 2026 expansion of the College Football Playoff from four to 12 teams, a format that will begin in 2024.

By the numbers

The 2021 Purdue-Tennessee game produced attendance and direct economic impact records for the 24-year history of the Music City Bowl:

• 2021: A record 69,489, breaking the 2010 mark of 69,143 (UNC-UT)
• All-time total: 1,278,546*
• All-time average: 55,559*

Direct economic impact
• 2021: $32 million
• All-time: $383 million
 *2020 game canceled due to COVID; attendance figures based on 23 games

The enclosed stadium is targeted for completion before the 2026 football season.

“Sports has been a real key element of how our city has grown and really offers a lot of opportunities to showcase the city and for citizens to be involved,” Ramsey says.

“With the expansion of both conferences (Texas/Oklahoma in the SEC and UCLA/USC in the Big Ten) down the road, and Nashville’s geographical positioning between the conferences, we’re really in a great place to be successful down the road (with a new stadium). So we’re excited about that.”

In a recent tourism pitch to the East Bank Stadium Committee, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. CEO Butch Spyridon suggests that the bowl’s SEC-Big Ten tie-in “is likely on the final end of its contract if we don’t find a way to up our game.

“Nashville needs to think of its rightful place in the sports landscape and the potential to host a College Football Playoff and championship,” Spyridon says, adding that the CFP’s expanded format is “going to change the landscape and change the smaller-level bowls or make them obsolete.”

The CVC, Nashville Sports Council and Chamber of Commerce have all endorsed the stadium project, as has SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. Nashville will host SEC Football Media Days for the first time in July.

“Nashville is important to the Southeastern Conference, and I am confident it will always be a part of our future. A domed stadium in Nashville is certain to attract the highest profile national collegiate events and will enhance the SEC’s future in Music City,” Sankey says.

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm and his players celebrate last year’s Music City Bowl win, a 48-45 overtime decision against Tennessee.

-- Photo Submitted By Transperfect Music City Bowl

As public comment meetings continue this month and Metro Council considers voting on key elements of the proposal, let’s take a deeper look at how the Music City Bowl might be impacted as this silver anniversary season plays out.

Bowl pairings

The College Football Playoff selection show is set for 11 a.m. (CST) Sunday on ESPN. There’s always a guessing game leading up to the announcement, and the Music City Bowl has been rife with speculation about which teams are headed to Nashville for the Big Ten/SEC matchup.

“It’s really tough this time of year to get really specific on projections,” Ramsey says. “I know the media likes to do those, but it really will spin off with the final College Football Playoff standings because that impacts the New Year’s Six matchups, which impacts who’s going to be available in both the SEC and the Big Ten to possibly host in Nashville.”

Last century, bowl officials invited the teams they wanted to play in their city. The system has evolved, and the Music City Bowl is now part of the selection process group known as the “pool of six pecking order.”

“Each conference is different. The SEC, for the last eight or nine years, we’ve gone through a pool process that represents Tampa, Jacksonville, Nashville, Houston, Las Vegas this year and Memphis,” Ramsey explains.

“So, really, it’s just kind of a collaborative effort with the schools and the conferences and the bowls. The goal is to try to keep matchups fresh, try to avoid repeat scenarios and do the best you can with trying to kind of put the right teams in the right city in the right year.

“Wins and losses can kind of dictate those options, so you’re still going to be, each year, somewhat relegated to what’s available. But the Big Ten’s a little different. They do still have somewhat of a modified draft order.”

Nashville, Ramsey says, picks its opponents behind the Citrus Bowl and ReliaQuest Bowl (formerly the Outback Bowl) in Tampa.

“There’s some rules of thumb there, too, where for the six years we all are going to the best we can have at least five different teams, try to avoid repeat games and kind of move through the process as best we can,” he says.

Economic impact highlights

The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp is finalizing an economic impact report by Tourism Economics, which is a subsidiary of Oxford Economics. A few preliminary highlights:

A new enclosed stadium would create an estimated $34 billion in economic impact through 2051.
Out-of-town stadium visitors and visiting teams are significant drivers of new revenue for the local economy.
In 2019, 388,000 out-of-town visitors along with visiting teams spent $67 million at local businesses during their stay in Nashville for Titans’ home games.
An enclosed stadium also would bring in millions of dollars from mega events. Nashville is likely to attract a mega event every two years, examples of which including Super Bowl, Final Four, College Football Playoff, WrestleMania.

Source: Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp

“So, everything’s a little bit different, a lot more collaborative than it used to be 15 years ago to where it was just a straight-out pick. It’s really made our bowl system and certainly benefited Nashville in a much more healthy way.”

How new CFP might work

We know the basics of the proposed 12-team playoff format would work, but many of issues have yet to be resolved to know how or where Nashville might fit into the picture with a new stadium.

It has been established that the top four seeds will get first-round byes. First-round games will be played on campus sites with the No. 5 seed hosting No. 12, No. 11 at No. 6, No. 10 visiting No. 7 and the No. 8 seed hosting No. 9.

“The real answer is it’s still unknown, but I think the intent is to obviously structure the playoff as is currently planned, where first-round games would be held on campus with quarterfinals, semifinals, national championship to be held at bowl sites,” Ramsey explains.

“That could change. We’re all kind of waiting for some decisions to be made from the group of commissioners and presidents that represent the CFP and we’ll have to react to that.

“But I think we have full intention, and both conferences have indicated as well, that after the playoff they still intend to really support the bowl system.”

And that’s the point at which – depending on whether there’s a new stadium on the way – the Music City Bowl’s future hangs in the balance.

“That would give us a chance to really make a decision on where we can best position the Music City Bowl and hopefully really create and maintain the event that we’ve kind of grown accustomed to here in Nashville,” Ramsey says. “A lot of people come (to the bowl), and it’s great television exposure and just some exciting few days in the city.”

He says the sponsorship with Transperfect and contracts with ESPN and both conferences all end after the 2025 season, “which aligns nationally with the College Football Playoff and how that expansion and kind of redesign of the Playoff will align as well, which starts with the 2026 regular season.

“They’re trying to implement that early in 2024 if they could. But even if they do that, we’ll remain with our current contracts as it stands now with the Big 10 and SEC,” Ramsey says.

National championship here?

Tennessee has been well-represented in the Music City Bowl with three appearances and a 1-2 record. Only Kentucky has appeared more, five times with a 2-3 record.

-- Photo By Jerry Denham | The Ledger

That’s the plan, Ramsey says. Or the dream. Or the goal. They all fit – hinging on that new stadium being built, of course. If that does come to fruition?

“Then everything will be up for negotiation beginning in 2026 and beyond,” Ramsey says. “And that certainly gives us a great opportunity with a new stadium coming online, hopefully, to really chase and participate at a national level, whether it’s a national championship game, which we’re certainly going to pursue or see kind of where the bowl can kind of fit in within the new system.”

So, what if the Council declines to approve the new stadium and instead OKs a major overhaul of Nissan Stadium, which has 9,000 more seats than the one being planned? Could Nashville still host one of those Playoff games or even still a national championship game?

“I think that’s unlikely, to be honest,” he says. “I know the current position from the College Football Playoff standpoint is they prefer not to have weather be a major factor in the national championship game.

“So, I think that really and, plus with it being natural grass and being able to turn it on a small turnaround kind of frame would really, if not eliminate, significantly damage our chances in hosting that.

“And I think they have enough options and move it around where they don’t have to deal with weather in a city, whether it’s Nashville or any other city,” Ramsey continues. “As it currently sits, I would not be very optimistic that we could host the championship game without a covered facility.”

More than football

Economic impact of WrestleMania

WrestleMania is seven consecutive nights
Reaches 1 billion homes in 57 countries
It is the most-followed sports brand on social media
It is the No. 6 Sports Event Brand (behind Super Bowl, Olympics, etc).
Generated $206.5 million in economic impact, 156,000 in attendance during two nights in Dallas at AT&T Stadium.

Source: Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp

The proposed new facility could mean Nashville joins a regular rotation of cities to host Playoff games. But Ramsey looks beyond just his bowl’s interests and thinks Nashville will be a player to host Super Bowls, the NCAA men’s Final Four, WrestleMania, major concerts and conventions.

“I think in the first several years of the new stadium, should it come online, I think it opens up opportunities for events that are some of the largest sporting events in the United States, and in the world, for that matter, when you talk about the Super Bowl, the men’s Final Four, and a College Football Playoff national championship game.

“We’re excited. I think people are excited about the city. I think we’ve really created a great reputation over these first 25-plus years with the arena and the stadium that we can host major events, that we can successfully put them on,” he notes.

“Fans enjoy coming to our city. Teams and players enjoy playing here. So I think it opens up the door to some of those major events that we currently can’t pursue or even be considered for because of the facility.

Tennessee tight end Princeton Fant stiffarms a would-be Purdue tackler during last year’s Music City Bowl. Tennessee raised its bowl profile this year by finishing 10-2.

-- Photo Courtesy Of The Transperfect Music City Bowl

“Those are major economic impact events, some of the largest in the United States and in the world from a sports’ standpoint. And that’s not counting all the media exposure that you get through those.

“It would be a great platform for the city and, again, just kind of elevating the trajectory that we’ve been on. So we’re certainly excited about competing for those events with other cities and really like what we’ve built in our foundation and our reputation as a great sports event destination.”

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