Navy’s other bowl game

With 10 bowl appearances since 2003, it isn’t unusual for the Navy team to get a bit of national attention during the college football postseason. This year, though, the team wasn’t the only part of the Navy program to have its moment in the spotlight. While the Mids were in Texas preparing to take on Middle Tennessee State, the building they call home was playing host to Marshall and Maryland in the Military Bowl.

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium isn’t a stranger to hosting non-USNA events. In addition to being the home of Navy football for over 50 years, NMCMS has hosted everything from high school football to Olympic soccer. The stadium is particularly well-suited for lacrosse, having served as a host for the men’s and women’s NCAA tournament, the Women’s Lacrosse World Cup, Major League Lacrosse championship, and as the home field for MLL’s Chesapeake Bayhawks. The ongoing renovation process at the stadium has made it a more attractive host for outside events, which allows it introduce USNA to a wider audience.

One of the goals of the renovations was to enhance the “memorial” aspect of the stadium. Chris Cole is a retired rear admiral and serves on the board of directors of the Military Bowl. His personal opinion is that the emphasis on the stadium as a memorial is what made Annapolis an ideal host despite the game’s Washington roots.

“The main reason behind the move is that playing the game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is more consistent with the Military Bowl’s primary mission of supporting and honoring our nation’s Armed Forces,” said Cole, who is also President of the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation. “Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is the perfect venue for our game, with the battle names on the stadium facades, the battle arches, class arches and other reminders of our nation’s military history throughout the stadium.”

“Of course, when considering whether the game should move from RFK Stadium, due diligence was performed and we looked at the obvious alternatives, but the bottom line is that holding the Military Bowl at Navy was simply the right move to make.”

Known as the Congressional Bowl during the NCAA certification process, it became the EagleBank Bowl after the Bethesda-based bank secured naming rights to the game in 2008. Northrup Grumman became the presenting sponsor in 2010, and the name was changed once again, this time to the Military Bowl. The name change isn’t superficial. The mission of supporting the military is a very real part of the game’s identity, both through community service and in the bowl’s business plan. This year, the Maryland team visited the Armed Forces Retirement Home as part of the pregame festivities. Past years featured team visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Military Bowl is also a major contributor to the USO, donating at least $100K each year. On the business side, the rebranding has given the game a more targeted audience, and by extension, appeal to sponsors. A bowl game with a military identity located in the same city as the headquarters of the nation’s military make it a natural advertising opportunity for companies like Northrup Grumman that do business with the military. Sponsorship revenue for the game has tripled since the name change.

With the increase in revenue comes an increase in stability for the bowl, which is a big reason why the ACC agreed to provide a team from 2014-2019. That stability is good news for the game’s other tie-in, the American Athletic Conference, since bowl matchups with so-called “Power 5” conferences will be at a premium going forward. It’s good news for Navy too, since they stand to be the beneficiary of some of those ACC matchups (not to mention the free advertising through the use of the stadium). It’s obviously good news for the USO. It’s also good news for Annapolis businesses that received an estimated $1 million in economic impact from visitors in town for the parade and game.

The game might be played in Annapolis, but it still maintains an identity as Washington’s bowl game (the game’s logo makes that very clear). Both team hotels are in Washington, as are almost all bowl-related events. It might seem like an awkward pairing, but Cole doesn’t believe that’s the case.

“Both DC and Annapolis have very attractive histories and attractions, and I think the teams and fans like being able to take in both places,” he said. “There is some small additional coordination that needs to be done, as the teams were in Washington all week, then had to bus 30 minutes to Annapolis on game day. Our staff was very busy in the weeks leading up to the game, with repeated trips to Annapolis for meetings and planning. But all in all, things went very smoothly. DC and Annapolis are really not that far away from each other, with good roads and reasonable traffic conditions most of the time.”

That’s not to say that there weren’t some glitches. There were reports of traffic problems and long lines for tickets at will call, for example. While Cole didn’t want to get specific as to the nature of any hiccups before the bowl had a chance to conduct a review with its partners/vendors, he did acknowledge that there were a few issues stemming from “the differences between a bowl game and regular season game” and that these issues would be “handled thoroughly and properly.”

In the grand scheme of things, though, these issues were minor. When it came to Annapolis and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium serving as hosts for the Military Bowl, Cole called it “a terrific success.”

“We have had informal conversations with officials from Maryland and Marshall and all of the feedback has been extremely positive, both from those who had previously attended games at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and from those who had never been to the stadium before. The people at Navy and the City of Annapolis could not have been more helpful.”

Postgame reports echoed that sentiment. With great weather, an exciting contest, and the second-largest crowd in the game’s history, the Military Bowl was indeed a success by any measure. The city and stadium that Navy fans are so proud of had a lot to do with it.

Navy doesn’t receive much in the way of direct financial benefit from hosting the Military Bowl, but they do benefit in other important ways. Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is an ideal showcase for the Naval Academy, and hosting the game put USNA into 2.5 million living rooms in addition to the 30,000 that were in attendance. Hosting the game also reinforced the relationship that Navy football has with the Annapolis business community. The fact that the Naval Academy maintains a facility like NMCMS capable of hosting events like the Military Bowl is a direct, positive influence on the bottom line of local businesses. With the mutual benefit to both the Naval Academy and bowl organizers, hopefully this will be a lasting partnership.

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