New Mexico Bowl provides about 27 fans from state with wonderful experience

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Being able to cover the seventh edition of the New Mexico Bowl (now sponsored by Gildan) was without a doubt a privilege and an experience. I’m an Albuquerque native and an avid fan of UNM athletics and having an opportunity to cover my first FBS game, as well as my first bowl game, made for a week I won’t soon forget.

Before the game, unnecessary and oblivious sports pundits, for example mostly anyone who writes for Yahoo Sports, penned the contest between Arizona and Nevada as one to be forgotten. True football fans wouldn’t really gain anything from watching the lowly bowl season opener, they said. Because who wants to watch two teams with less-than-stellar 7-5 records play in a city not exactly renowned for its sports-related accomplishments, and in a state few people really seem to understand?

It may be an unspoken and calamitous fact that as wonderful as New Mexico is, as physically attractive and as culturally diverse it is, it’s a forgotten part of this country. I’ve been to the East Coast. I’ve had people ask me why I speak such good English (and that question is doubly ignorant, given the fact that the Spanish language is a beautiful one and a considerable amount of fine New Mexicans speak it regardless of what ethnicity they claim).

Northeasterners might actually think the sun revolves around New York City, and as much as I love Boston, telling a lifer there you’re from the Southwest is a solid way to find an abrupt end to an otherwise pleasant conversation.

Maybe people don’t watch the New Mexico Bowl because they don’t care about the watered-down collegiate bowl system.

Perhaps they don’t respect it. Admittedly, even though it’s in its seventh year and has probably survived far longer than most people, including myself, predicted, it won’t have the traditional allure of a Cotton Bowl or an Outback Bowl or a Poinsettia Bowl for years to come.

Granted that style of thought technically makes you a snobbish football elitist, but the facts are the facts, and I happen to be a typical, run-of-the-mill football snob. Even though I probably don’t deserve to be one, but you probably don’t either.

Advertising can’t possibly be to blame for the lackluster excitement the game conjures, as ESPN owns a significant stake in the bowl and thus the dang thing was painted across every proverbial square inch of time the network has in between ill-conceived and notoriously under-informed Skip Bayless rants.

And lest we forget the actual football aspect to the game — one I think somehow actually manages to get lost amongst the schmoosing, bartering, wheeling dealing and generally morally divisive nature of the NCAA — is that the Wildcats and the Wolf Pack had combined for an astonishing 12,000 offensive yards heading into the game. And, it boasted the country’s two top rushers in Ka’Deem Carey and Stefphon Jefferson. I double dog dare you to figure out the last time the top two running backs in the NCAA, at least statistically, faced off in the same bowl game. I couldn’t, and if you’re anything like me you occasionally lose sleep over stuff like that.

So as you likely know by now, the game turned out to be one of the most dramatic, unlikely, borderline ridiculous comebacks the college football realm has seen, at least in a bowl game. I’m sure most of you can spout out a list of better games between better teams, but this one is fresh in our heads and it happened in our backyard.

The game was great. The overall execution of the week’s festivities was equally good, and that’s where the experience of attending a bowl game truly comes from. The fanfare, the festivity, the camaraderie between the players, the coaches, the fans and even us media types is something to behold. It’s not forced. It isn’t cheesy or unnecessary or awkward.

It has been in bowls past, of course. This wasn’t the “Duel in the Desert” that pitted two angry, bitter rivals against one another. Bowl director Jeff Siembieda didn’t dress the players up in unauthentic country hats and make a large group of mentally and physically attuned athletes sing karaoke with one another just hours before they were to pummel each other on the gridiron.

No, this was done correctly. There were team dinners and game sessions and lunches and even a pep rally featuring a battle of the marching bands. It was fun. It was organized. Perhaps most importantly, it felt authentic.

Everything from top to bottom went smoothly, yet everyone involved in the game from player to fan to organizer to sponsor was probably asking the same question: “Why the hell didn’t anyone show up?”

ESPN did itself a huge favor by putting Arizona on the visitor’s sideline and predicting the Wildcats fans would send a few more fans to the Land of Enchantment, and that they did. With television cameras pointed east, University Stadium looked remarkably fuller than it actually was, although the Nevada faithful didn’t disappoint.

Still, the official gate number was 24,610, a full 15,000 short of the stadium capacity, and we have to ask how many of those tickets were given away.

The average cost for a New Mexico Bowl ticket this year was $31.67. Even if every soul who showed up Saturday paid for their ticket, that makes for a gate profit of $779,316.67. The bowl payout for both Arizona and Nevada was $456,250 for a total of $912,500.

Color me silly, but we could round that up to a million dollars, and that would represent a number a full $133,183.33 more than fans provided, not including concessions and merchandise of course.

If we speak in layman’s terms it seems like the state of New Mexico paid two out-of-state teams almost a million clams (it didn’t, but it can look that way to any competent human being) to come entertain a bunch of people who don’t live in New Mexico. Or at least we’ll assume the majority of them don’t, and that there is one of the event’s glaring problems: local support.

And not local support in that financially competent entities don’t know the thing is happening, but local support in that individuals don’t feel any carnal need to show their faces. Even in the two years the Lobos played in the game in 2006 and 2007, the powers that be couldn’t come up with a sell-out.

In fact, the New Mexico Bowl attendance has dropped by 8,000 since 2010.

Still, local entities continue to throw their hat in the ring. For example, the lengthy list of local sponsors this year included: The Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, New Mexico True, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Santa Ana Star Casino, KRQE, 770 KKOB, 610 The Sports Animal, the Albuquerque Journal, MD Urgent Care, KASA, Tucanos, Hyatt Regency at Tamaya, Comcast, Cross Country Auto Sales, New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranches, Buffalo Thunder Resort and Twin Peaks.

That’s not the full list and I’m not remotely privy to the dollar amount required of sponsorship, but how long can the city or the county or the state continue to support the game when we locals really haven’t?

KOAT featured a pleasant and well-spoken man named “Al” during its segment about the disappointing turnout, and the man made some good points.
Basically he said that it was embarrassing, it was a great opportunity to showcase both New Mexico and the bowl, and the city populous needs to get behind the bowl and start providing it with some butts in the stands. After all, ESPN probably isn’t the type of network to stick around, especially financially, if the host city in question seems unconcerned.
The game has already faced cuts in public funding recently, and without a showcasing network to rest its head on the New Mexico Bowl might be hard-pressed to find an on-air home (read: the expectedly defunct MTN.)
Now there were a few obstructions that may have directly contributed to the unspectacular attendance numbers that may make my judgment of New Mexico football fans, simply put, unjust.
One, UNM decided to hold the Lobos-Aggies basketball game across the street at The Pit just hours after the New Mexico Bowl kickoff.
Talking to a cordial individual named Matt when picking up my press credentials, the issue came up. By no means do I intend to quote the man verbatim, but the general feeling was that the bowl game had been scheduled as far back as last spring, and some of the higher-ups at ESPN were none too pleased about the conflict.
I also don’t intend to imply a conspiracy in that regard, but I have to assume the university gets at least a chunk of the spoils, whatever they may be, for use of the stadium. I could be very wrong, but the nature of college football makes me believe I’m not.
Second, the University of Arizona held commencement on Saturday in Tucson, and that was also a possible contributor to the turnout, but who can really say for sure?
And yes, the weather was borderline miserable as well, but who doesn’t want to watch football in dreary, cloudy, freezing cold weather, and especially in December?
Siembieda told KOAT that all things considered he was okay with the turnout, but his demeanor wasn’t exactly convincing.
Simply put, bottom line, end of story is that New Mexican sports fans need to get behind the bowl, buy some tickets, and help ensure the future of the game.
Is that a fair request in a basketball state with economic issues, education issues and a high poverty rate? Probably not. But if we can sell out The Pit game after game after game, I think we might be able to pull something together for the greater good of the state, even if it means sitting through a fantastic football game.

 

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