It's a question that the chief operating officer of today's International Bowl at the Rogers Centre has heard one too many times, perhaps. Will an lower tier NCAA football bowl game sell in Toronto, where the Leafs rule and everybody else is battling for sports market scraps?
"Any time you bring in something new there is a wait and see approach," said Don Loding yesterday, during a launch luncheon at the Sheraton Centre. Millions of dollars are paid out to the participating schools in larger bowl events. For today's game, between the Western Michigan University Broncos of the Mid-American Conference and the University of Cincinnati Bearcats of the Big East Conference, the pay-out is $750,000 US. Western Michigan and Cincinnati stood third and fifth in their conferences, respectively.
Nonetheless, Loding, who has worked with the Motor City Bowl in Michigan, remains bullish on this inaugural event, leading the charge to take an NCAA bowl game beyond U.S. borders for the first time since the Bacardi Bowl in Cuba in 1937.
We'll know around noon today (kickoff) whether this thing has a chance to fly or is heading towards flop.
"I don't know," said Doug Flutie, on board as a TV colour commentator. "I'll be very interested to see how this comes off."
Flutie is working alongside Torontonian and ESPN personality John Saunders, who will be handling play-by-play. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2, as well as TSN, and on FAN 590 radio.
Flutie knows the core football fan in this market is a serious one. It's just a matter of how many are out there.
Flutie, Loding, and the coaches were in sell mode yesterday. Chuck Ealey, who has long ties with the NCAA as a player with the University of Toledo (he went 35-0 as a starter, still an NCAA record), then watched as his son and son-in-law play college ball, is involved as well. After his collegiate career, Ealey won a Grey Cup in the CFL with Hamilton. He never left Canada, and works with Investors Group in Mississauga. Loding brought him on board to help promote the event, plus to do some radio work.
Those involved said success will come down to educating the Toronto football fan on the calibre of the NCAA product. It will come down to educating the Toronto entertainment seeker on marching bands and the overall atmosphere of an NCAA event, somewhat foreign to people here. Loding doesn't know the exact breakdown between American football fans and locals, but you can bet a large contingent of the 25,000-30,000 expected by Loding today will have made the trek north of the border.
Organizers have four-year agreements with the NCAA conferences and broadcasting partners to run the event here.
Loding said he hopes to be here twenty years from now, with Toronto sports fans having bought in years before then.