College bowls generate big bucks — except for the players


Second of two parts

What is a 5-7 football team with a losing record like Minnesota doing in a bowl game? According to a new Harvard Business School study, one more win might be worth about $1 million.

Doug Chung reviewed 117 Division I football and men’s basketball teams’ revenue for the past 11 years. He noted in “How Much Is a Win Worth?” that success on the field or on the court “has a significant impact on revenue.”

Ford Field (Photo by (Debra Drummond. License CC 2.0 via Commons_
The Gophers will play their bowl game at Ford Field Dec. 28.

Quoted in Research and Ideas, “Some of the top schools make enormous amounts of money…close to $200 million,” said the professor. Basketball revenue can range anywhere from $123,000 to $44 million a year, added Chang.

Chung noted that each of the top 19 schools in 2013-14 had athletic revenues of more than $100 million — and 67 schools made over $50 million.

The December 28 Detroit bowl game that the Gophers will play in has a $1.2 million payout per team, win or lose. Even if the Gophers had been invited to a so-called lesser bowl — ESPN ranked the Detroit bowl 37th of 40 bowls — the payoff for the school still could have been as much as $750,000.

According to Statistic Brain Research Institute (, each of the “Big Five” conferences will receive an estimated $50 million from bowl games to divvy up among its member schools. Because Michigan State is in the four-team college football playoffs, the Big Ten gets an estimated $6 million, and another $4 million if a conference team plays in one of the “Big 6 Bowls.”

Each “Group of 5” conference schools (Mid-American Conference, American, C-USA, Midwestern Conference and Sun Belt) gets about $18 million from bowl appearances.

The highest per-team payout is $22 million for the championship game scheduled in January. The Sugar, Rose, Fiesta and Orange Bowls each pay out $18 million; other bowls range from $4.2 million to under $1 million. The two championship game finalists will receive an estimated $2 million for expenses.

“That’s a very big amount of money, and we’re talking about academic institutions of higher education,” noted Chung.

The Detroit Lions are the only NFL team that owns and operates a college bowl game — all bowls are privately operated but sanctioned by the NCAA. Formerly known as the Motor City Bowl, the game over the years has undergone several name changes. Now it’s named for an oil change and tire place (this columnist’s personal policy of not using corporate names is invoked here).

The game at Ford Field in downtown Detroit, named for the Ford family that owns the Lions, features Minnesota and Central Michigan of the MAC. It will be televised on ESPN2 at 4 pm Central time on December 28. Only the Heart of Dallas Bowl pays the invited schools the same $1.2 million per team.

Typically, each bowl gives each player “gifts” — most gifts are donated by sponsors in return for some type of pre-, during- or post-game advertising. ranks the Detroit bowl fourth on its list of this year’s player booty. What goodies will the players in Detroit get?

A $200 gift card from a big box store, headphones, a backpack, a vintage football, a “life-sized decal” with the player’s likeness, a hoodie, a woolen hat and a baseball cap— total estimated retail value is between $600 and $700.

Everybody gets paid millions but the players, something which Chung hopes his study will influence in the ongoing discussion of paying college players.


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