The Arkansas Razorbacks and Texas Longhorns played a football game last night. Nobody really wanted the two to play a football game -- nobody but Arkansas and Texas fans. But play the two 6-6 teams did in something known as the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl. Arkansas scored on its first possession. The Razorbacks went on to score 21 points in the second score. Arkansas led 24-7 at the half and piled on more points in the second half while completely shutting down the Horns as it pulled down the deceptively easy 31-7 win.
NRG Stadium was, amazingly, sold out for the game, sign of the longing of Texas and Arkansas fans for the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s -- ESPN made sure to mention the Game of the Century several times. Both teams looked like the mediocre barely-staying-afloat teams that they are, and that Arkansas was able to destroy Texas says more about the strength of the SEC as opposed to the Big 12 than it does about the ability of either one of these teams to beat up on legitimate competition. It was the perfect game to play on the crappy, torn up, misused turf of NRG Stadium.
Texas ran 46 plays for the game. It gained a total of 59 yards, 57 of those yards coming off of the anemic passing game. Arkansas meanwhile did what it wanted to do, whenever it wanted to do it, gaining 353 yards on 74 plays. And the score could have been much worse, but Arkansas elected to take three knees after getting a first and goal with under a minute on the clock. It was almost like watching Rice dominate Fresno State on Christmas Eve, though schools from power conferences playing in bowl games shouldn't be so thoroughly humiliated.
If you read the Houston Chronicle yesterday though, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was actually the most important game in the history of organized football. The Chron stressed the historic attendance numbers for the games played at NRG Stadium, calling this bowl game one of the most attended bowl games in the county. The Chronicle also stressed that this bowl game and the Advocare Texas Kick-Off game in August could account for up to a $100 million economic impact to the city.
Yes, that's right, $100 million. Even one of the paper's own sports columnists seemed skeptical of that number.
Of course, the Chronicle didn't site any actual support for this number. It quoted a few PR flacks associated with the Lone Star Texas Bowl Committee who claimed that the LSU/Wisconsin game played at NRG Stadium over Labor Day weekend accounted for 50,000 visitors to the city, and it went on to say that many people attending last night's game have never visited Houston before, which must mean that there are absolutely no UT or Arkansas alums living in Houston -- and anybody who has ever listened to Houston sports talk radio knows that Houston is full of UT alums.
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Cities, bowl officials, and sports leagues make up economic figures like this all of the time in order to justify the sums spent to host the events. New York City and the NFL claim that the Super Bowl added $600 million to the New York economy, though nobody will cite the figures used to arrive at that number. Economists who study such figures all agree on one thing: that $600 million number is a lie.
The Phoenix Business Journal, in a story on the upcoming Super Bowl in Phoenix, reports that the actual economic impact for most cities lies somewhere between $30 million and $90 million. And there was a University of Maryland study conducted of the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston that concluded the game only accounted about $5 million added to the city's coffers. So to expect a third-rate bowl game featuring teams that barely gained bowl eligibility to have a much larger economic impact on the city than a Super Bowl, with figures everybody knows are inflated, is asking just a bit too much.
It's fun to have a bowl game. It's fun to host a Super Bowl. And yes it does bring some money and prestige to the city. But come on. The only people seeing an economic benefit off these events are the leagues and teams playing in the games. So stop with the phony numbers already.
And who knows. If we get lucky, maybe next time the Sponsor-Name-Goes-Here Texas Bowl will actually be able to bring in some teams with winning records. But that's a story for next year.