College Football Bowl Season: Orlando owns it and it's only getting better!
The 2021 college football season is nearly at an end and while everyone else talks about opt outs, I want to focus on the positive and just how good Orlando came out looking with it's 3 bowl games. Let's recap and look at what it means for Orlando's sports future!
Most major markets across the country are lucky to even have 1 bowl game in their area. Here in Central Florida we have access to 6 between the Jacksonville, Tampa, and Orlando markets with half of those games taking place right here in Orlando! And there is a reason for that, between the great weather, available venues, and the plethora of other attractions in the area for traveling fans and teams, Orlando bowl games are a great reward for teams that fought hard to end the season. But while it is great for those individual teams, it's even better for the clout of the Orlando area to host these great events. Let's take a look at the venues, the games, and what it means for the future.
The Tailgreeter Cure Bowl - Exploria Stadium
Coastal Carolina 47 - Northern Illinois 41
Attendance 9,784/Viewership 1.3 million
Hosted in the year-round home of the Orlando City Lions of the MLS, The Cure Bowl returned to Exploria Stadium after spending 2020 at Camping World Stadium. And really, in the more intimate stands of Exploria Stadium is where this game belongs. Typically an early game on the slate, the typical matchup here doesn't demand more seating than the 25,500 capacity that Exploria offers. But what the stadium lacks in seating, it more than makes up for in an intimate feel that really comes through in the broadcast and for the fans. It helps when the game is pretty good too. Coastal Carolina was making a return trip to the Cure Bowl after losing a heartbreaker to Liberty in a game that featured 2 top 25 teams for the first time the bowl's short history. They didn't return to Myrtle Beach empty handed this year though, holding on to beat Northern Illinois, not withstanding a bit of a controversial ending, for their first bowl championship in program history. And while the attendance numbers could have been better, it was 18,000+ in 2019 the last time the game was played at Exploria, the TV numbers really set the stage for what has been a highly watched bowl season. It was also a great showcase for Orlando's newest sports stadium in a role it wasn't necessarily built for, but was a great backdrop to a tight game. This same stadium has hosted multiple World Cup Qualifying events and has been mentioned as a site for similar events going forward.
The Cheez-It Bowl - Camping World Stadium
Clemson 20 - Iowa State 17
Attendance 39,051/Viewership 4.9 million
Often considered the "second tier" of the two bowl games hosted at Camping World Stadium, the Cheez-It Bowl is really trying to make this a premium matchup in it's own right. Bringing in marquee teams like Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma since coming to Orlando in 2001, The Cheez-It Bowl brings in the matchups. At just over 39k, this years game was the lowest attended, not including 2020's game due to Covid restrictions, since 2005. And in a world still struggling with the Covid pandemic, it's still a strong turnout. But what really grabbed me was the viewership numbers. At 4.9 million this was the highest watched game pre-New Year's Day and you can see why with the high expectations both teams went into the 2021 season with. And while not the championship game Tigers fans expected going in to this season, Clemson did finish with 10+wins for the 14th straight season. The real appeal to this game comes down to sponsorship though. Cheez-It is a nationally recognizable brand that really focuses on this game, unlike some sponsors. From the winning coach getting a Cheez-It bath at the end of the game to the specially marketed boxes given to the press, Cheez-It makes sure you know who sponsors this game.
The VRBO Citrus Bowl - Camping World Stadium
Kentucky 20 - Iowa 17
Attendance 50,769/Viewership 6.6 million
And while what the Cheez-It Bowl has done is nice, there is no denying who #1 is when it comes to the bowl games in Central Florida, not just Orlando. With the largest payout of any bowl game not in the New Years 6 championship rotation, The Citrus Bowl presents a true test for some of the most elite programs in the country at the end of the season on a stage that can't be matched. The 6.6 million viewership number was the highest viewed game outside of the New Years 6 as well, being just beat out by the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl in viewership while competing with multiple games in it's time slot show the staying power and reverence fans across the country have for the game. Between the Cheez-It Bowl and Citrus Bowl, Camping World Stadium was really able to showcase the near $300 million renovation it recently went under to continue to be a premium event venue for these types of games. And it didn't hurt that they hosted another great game between 2 top teams in the SEC and Big 10. Kentucky taking the lead and holding on late to win was one of the top live sporting event moments of my life, and I don't give a damn about either team! It was just that good of a game and Camping World was the perfect host for the event.
But What Does it Mean!?
Well since you asked, I think the full meaning of all this is Orlando is ready for another major league franchise! The market and city have shown by holding these style events and others, like the Monster Jam World Finals, the NFL Pro-Bowl, and being a finalist for World Cup hosting duties, that the facilities, infrastructure, and monetary support is all here. It's been shown that big and small sponsors want to be involved in events taking place in this city and that money isn't a barrier when the support will be there. The recent purchase of Orlando City Soccer by the Wilf family, more known for their NFL ownership stake in the Minnesota Vikings, I believe solidifies this belief even more! Orlando is the next frontier when it comes to major league sports and I think that announcement is closer than it has ever been. This city is here waiting with all of it's money, people, and sponsorship ties, it is just a matter of which league jumps first.
(All photos by: Greg Rhodes)
Thank you so much for reading, please leave a comment below if you like. Or, if you haven't already, subscribe at the bottom of the page and follow us on social media by following the links below!