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Will Gator Bowl fall victim to lack of interest and attendance?

Florida Football Insiders

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Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt that the College Football Playoff has made the end of bowl season dramatic and gives a finality that they haven’t had, previously. However, the explosion in the last 15 or so years of “participation trophy” type bowl games (you know the ones where at least one or both teams don’t have a winning record) has begun to have a ripple effect.

Many of them are suffering at the turnstiles and almost all of the lesser ones would have already been out of business, if not for ESPN.

Oh, did we mention “The World Wide Leader in Sports?” Yes, ESPN owns many of the bowls outright, and has the television rights to almost all of them, including the CFP. They are largely responsible for the dearth of extra bowl games that virtually no one attends, and a lot of the teams play almost out of obligation to their conference, etc.

And so, while they’ve created “built in” December TV programming, the games are floundering.

And unfortunately, in North Florida, and maybe soon in Central and West Central Florida, their traditional bowl games may succumb to what’s happening.

In Jacksonville, the Gator Bowl, which has been played for 70+ years is in trouble.

As the Florida Times-Union wrote about Saturday, the game has been trending down in the 2010’s, but the last two year’s the game has had just over 40,000 in announced attendance. That means over 30,000 seats are unsold. There were just over 41,000 there on December 30th for Mississippi State’s win (above) over Louisville last year.

The one plus is, ESPN has been paying the schools $3.5 million each to attract top teams for the “Power Five” conferences. The downside, is that money doesn’t last forever on games that aren’t drawing and in the Gator Bowl’s case, get lost in the New Year’s weekend shuffle.

And the Gator Bowl’s conference agreements are about to up in two years, as well. So it’s no easy challenge, to re-negotiate and attract the top conferences and teams. As Jacksonville Sports Council Executive Director, Rick Catlett told the paper,

“What we’re trying to do is figure out a financial model that’s beneficial for the teams and us,” said Catlett. “We’re talking about revenue sharing, so in years we don’t meet our budget, they protect our downside.

“We have to change the model to be more of a partnership. Before, we guaranteed [conferences] a bunch of money and they told us what teams we were getting. It worked for 70 years, but the model changed when the CFP came in.”

Now, the Citrus Bowl in Orlando and the Outback Bowl in Tampa, while having the same declining attendance in recent years, have more solid footing, for now. That’s with getting a higher priority of choice from the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, etc. They are also locked in every year on New Year’s day in the early afternoon.

For Example, the Gator Bowl is being played this year on New Year’s Eve, which is another attendance killer, especially with the locals, for a non playoff semi-final.

For 40 years, the game was a weeknight match-up in Jacksonville and maybe that will end up being something that’s considered to help in the new financial model. As the payout won’t be as much, there won’t be as much strain if the game doesn’t have a ton of fans.

With at least 10, conservatively, of the fleet of bowls in jeopardy of being gone at some point soon, it would be a shame that the tradition rich Gator Bowl becomes one of them.

Still, the warning signs are there.

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Time for concern after XFL TV ratings declined again last week?

Florida Football Insiders

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the second consecutive week, the XFL televison ratings continued to slide in the wrong direction. And, the troubling part is that if the trend continues, the XFL will have no leverage for sponsors and revenue to keep it going long term.

First, here are the specifics on the bad viewership news: According to Showbuzzdaily.com all four XFL broadcasts last Saturday and Sunday afternoon had lower ratings in their slot than the previous week.

That includes the Tampa Bay Vipers home debut against Houston, which was the early game on ABC Saturday. And, while that window had 400,000 less viewers than week 2, the bigger concern is ABC has lost almost 40% of the audience from the 3.3 million average that watched their Week one debut game on Saturday afternoon.

The ratings downward trend is following the same pattern as last Spring’s Alliance of American Football, where the ratings dwindled to under a million fans for broadcasts by week five and eventually the league shut down after just eight weeks. This was in part because of concerns on how the AAF could make any revenue, through television in specific, if they had very little audience for the end of year one and to sell off of for year two.

Now, WWE owner Vince McMahon, who folded the XFL the first time in 2001 in large part because the television audience plummeted over the course of the first month or so of its existence and never recovered, has the same issue in 2020.

And, as we wrote previously, this audience decline while negative is far less McMahon’s original XFL and it’s first season of 2001.  That’s when, it debuted on its first Saturday night on NBC with a massive 10.1 rating, which translated 18 years ago to more than 9.5 viewers on network TV. A Smashing success.

However, the XFL’s ratings plummeted starting the following week and had fewer than 25% of that opening night audience just a month later with the games still being shown on a Saturday night coveted slot on NBC. It doomed the league from a P.R. and sponsor standpoint and McMahon pulled the plug.

Now, in 2020, McMahon reportedly has money to burn and is apparently prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in year one. So, even if the XFL TV ratings continue come down significantly, it will not spell the end of the XFL (like it did nearly 20 years ago) after just a single season.

At least, that’s what we think.

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Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener

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Mary Holt- USA Today Sports

Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.

Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.

The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.

However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.

Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.

Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.

Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.

The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.

Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.

The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.

The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.

However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.

And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.

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