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Monday, Feb. 13, 2017

INDEPENDENCE BOWL LOSES ANOTHER SPONSOR

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... and city and parish should follow

The Independence Bowl is now 40 years old, and maybe it’s time to shut it down. This year’s game was played on Dec. 26 – a Monday that was basically a nationwide business holiday. The weather was great and so was the 4 p.m. start time, but not the crowd. The announced attendance of a little less than 29,000 seemed to be very inflated based on the number of empty seats that could not be hidden from the TV coverage of the game.

The average bowl attendance for the 2016-2017 bowl season was almost 41,000; it was another year of decline from the highest average bowl attendance of 49,000-plus in the 2012- 2013 bowl season. Of course, there are now 41 college bowl games, and even though the Independence Bowl is older than all but 10 of these, today’s football audience is not into tradition. Even the highly publicized National Football League lost attendance this year.

Perhaps more telling as to the future of the Independence Bowl is the turnover in sponsorship. Camping World decided after the game to pull out, and this is now the third title sponsor to depart in four years. The Camping World CEO stated that the bowl experience did not improve for the second year of its sponsorship – despite the fact that the Bowl received over $500,000 from a hotel/motel tax that was passed to benefit the Bowl along with the Shreveport Bossier Sports Foundation and the Arklatex Regional Air Service Alliance. Camping World offered to stay on as sponsor for a third year at $550,000 versus the requested 2017 sponsorship ante of $900,000; the Bowl Foundation passed on the deal.

What the Bowl does as far as sponsorship is really the Bowl’s challenge; the hotel/motel industry, which now has higher room rates due to the added tax, does not have a seat at the table, even though it is, in effect, an economic stakeholder. Neither do the taxpayers of Shreveport and Caddo Parish, even though the Shreveport City Council and the Caddo Commission continue to help subsidize the Bowl.

The City of Shreveport paid a little over $95,000 for the Bowl game. These payments and in-kind contributions covered stadium staff, security, ticket takers, gate tent, golf carts, score board operators, chain crew, Riverview Hall rental, etc. (Some bowl skeptics believe that the city’s total contribution greatly exceeded the reported sum.) In exchange the city received 40 tickets to the Sky Box game day party; the mayor distributed 33 of these, and the seven council members also had tickets. The city also received 90 stadium tickets that were distributed to Green Oaks High School (40) and Southwood High School (50).

The Caddo Commission cut a check to the Bowl foundation for $65,000. In exchange the Commission received 30 passes to the Sky Box shindig that were distributed in sets of two to each of the 12 commissioners, parish administrator Woody Wilson, assistant parish administrator Randy Lucky and Commission clerk Todd Hopkins. The Commission also received 40 chair back tickets that were distributed to its public works employees. For those keeping count, that was a total of 70 high-dollar tickets purchased with taxpayer dollars.

Both the City Council and the Parish Commission have denied recent funding requests from local organizations, citing tight cash flows and the need for belt-tightening on all expenditures. Seemingly, each body would consider Independence Bowl funding a “luxury” that should be ended; there’s no reason that taxpayers should be paying for elected officials and highly paid public employees to get high-dollar game tickets.

Not surprisingly, neither Bossier City nor the Bossier Police Jury contributed any money to the Bowl. Much like the decision many years ago to stop Mardi Gras parades, Bossier has still benefitted from the Bowl with its annual pep rally at The Boardwalk, occupancy in Bossier hotels/motels and restaurants, getting sales tax revenues without spending tax dollars. The Shreveport City Council and the Caddo Commission should take note and do likewise.

The Bowl’s future is anyone’s guess, but it is not a responsibility of Caddo taxpayers, pure and simple. The world will not end if the city and parish stop funding of the Bowl. Shreveport is now known on a national basis without the Bowl, and it is no longer needed to be a civic ambassador for the city and/or the parish. All of the standard justifications for public underwriting do not stand serious scrutiny, especially with the hotel/motel tax in place. It’s time, actually past time, for the Independence Bowl Foundation to make it on its own, or fold its tent.

John E. Settle Jr. is an attorney who has practiced in Shreveport- Bossier since 1977. His columns have appeared in local publications for more than 15 years. He can be reached at 742-5513 or e-mail to: john@jesettle.com.

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