Cunningham: Why Bowls Matter
By Bubba Cunningham
Recently, I was able to get a very clear answer to the question of why football is important to University of North Carolina athletics and all athletic departments across the country.
When Notre Dame joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, our league went to ESPN and asked them to break down the value of our television contract. They replied that 80 percent of the TV revenue to the ACC is driven by football.
At Carolina, we are fortunate to have one of the best basketball programs in the country and we play in the best basketball conference in the nation. However, football still carries 80 percent of the value in our television contract, which is an incredibly important source of revenue for our league and for the schools that are members of that league. Football and men's basketball support all of our programs across our broad-based athletic department.
College football continues to grow nationally, and at UNC, we have some growth opportunities with that particular sport. Included in those opportunities is the chance to support our football program at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 28. Bowl games were originally created as a celebration of a successful season. They still fill that role, but they've grown into much more than that.
Now, part of the bowl experience is the opportunity to get an extra month of practice and prepare for the upcoming season. We're very excited that Larry Fedora's program will get that chance, and that the players and coaches will get to celebrate 2013 while preparing for 2014.
Coach Fedora wants to make Carolina an annual bowl participant, and a good part of that goal will be met on the field. But it's also true that part of the bowl process is dependent on ticket sales. Bowls were designed to attract schools and alumni to great destinations.
In my role as athletic director, I regularly have conversations with bowl representatives. They make it clear that developing a reputation of having an ardent, supportive fan base that is willing to follow a team anywhere is an important factor in bowl selection. One of the primary ways they measure that fan base is by ticket sales, and specifically ticket sales through the school. That traveling reputation, combined with television partners who want to have a great TV viewing audience and a fan base that will travel anywhere, is very important to bowl selections.
I have been very impressed with the Tar Heel fan turnout at basketball games like the recent Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic in Uncasville, Connecticut, where thousands of Carolina fans turned the Mohegan Sun Arena into a virtual UNC home court.
This month, we have that same opportunity in football. I am excited about the chance to see tens of thousands of fans wearing blue at Bank of America Stadium, and our football players and coaches will benefit from that type of support the same way our basketball team did against Louisville.
It's fortuitous for us that the first bowl game under Coach Fedora will happen in Charlotte, which is a key city for us in so many ways. From the moment he was hired, Coach Fedora has emphasized the importance of owning the Tar Heel State in recruiting. We want the best high school football players in the state of North Carolina to stay home.
Playing our bowl game within our state borders gives us a great venue to highlight some of those native players in our program. We want to showcase them for the next generation of talented players from our state who understand the importance of continuing the tradition of bringing the best high school talent to Chapel Hill.
In addition to playing in front of an important recruiting area, Charlotte also gives us the chance to play in front of one of our most important fan bases. Other than the Triangle, Charlotte has the next-highest concentration of North Carolina alumni. The city of Charlotte carries great weight throughout the Tar Heel State, and we want to be dominant in Charlotte. On December 28, we will demonstrate that the Tar Heels support the city of Charlotte, and the city of Charlotte supports the Tar Heels.
I look forward to seeing you at the Belk Bowl. This is a key opportunity for our football program, and our Carolina fans are an essential part of taking advantage of that opportunity.