The 2014-15 bowl season was the culmination of one of the most important and challenging years in the history of Florida Citrus Sports. Together as a staff and a team of community leaders and volunteers, we were tasked with operating our events – including three signature football games – in the midst of a near-complete reconstruction of the Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium.
The first year of the new College Football Playoff era presented new and unique changes across all of college football’s postseason, including many – such as realignment of team seating locations and the impact of the CFP selection committee on our own selection process – that you experienced firsthand. Though much of the national focus has been on the slight decline in bowl attendance, we can’t lose sight of what the games did for our community. Together, the Russell Athletic Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl ushered nearly 90,000 fans through the gates of the new stadium, with all bowl week spending equating to nearly $60 million in economic impact in our region (including almost 7.5 million in tourist development tax revenue alone).
Below are a few more of the highlights of 2014-15:
- Our staff and leadership continued operations at One Citrus Bowl Place from the first minute the old scoreboard was imploded through the stadium being announced as “game ready” for this year’s Florida Blue Florida Classic. As the old stadium was thunderously brought to the ground and rebuilt, work within our halls pressed forward, not only tackling “business as usual” but regularly collaborating with the City of Orlando and the construction team to ensure that the new stadium met the needs of our customers.
- We supported the city and venues team on a number of milestone events, including the demolition kickoff, media tours, recognition lunches for the construction workers, the ribbon cutting and open house.
- The team was able to successfully host the stadium’s first major event – the Florida Blue Florida Classic – while construction continued right up until gameday.
- A number of brand-new stadium partnerships were announced as part of the reconstruction Longtime FCSports supporters Bright House Networks, Florida Hospital and Massey Services became the first “corner partners” in the new building. We added a new partner with RP Funding sponsoring some of the new club spaces. Pepsi, City Beverages and Florida Distributing all signed on as official beverage vendors for stadium events.
- Buffalo Wild Wings was introduced as the new sponsor of the New Year’s Day game, bringing the tradition of “Citrus” back into the name of the bowl. The transition came in the midst of the college football season but was handled seamlessly through collaboration between FCSports and a dedicated and driven Buffalo Wild Wings team. Through the efforts of the Team Selection Committee, we were able to get the word out on the rebranding through the latter portion of the season with time to spare before Selection Sunday.
- We delivered on the promise of the new stadium equating to new business, announcing a new Orlando Kickoff neutral-site game to take place on Labor Day weekend (a traditionally slow time for the local tourism economy). We also announced the annual event’s first match-up, with Florida State and Ole Miss meeting on September 5, 2016.
- With reconstruction requiring some changes to our traditional events calendar, we successfully hosted a Selection Sunday version of Feast on the 50 pres. by BMO Harris Bank. Thanks to our events team and the Feast on the 50 committee, we were able to keep the event inside the Citrus Bowl (working around reconstruction) and integrate the announcement of which teams would be participating in this year’s bowl games.
- The Selection Committee welcomed Minnesota to an Orlando bowl for the first time ever, giving the Gophers their first New Year’s Day appearance since 1962. Minnesota fans responded with a loud and proud contingent at the game and many of the other bowl week events.
- The first season of a new bowl cycle welcomed Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the first Big 12 team to play in an Orlando bowl since then-conference team Colorado played in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl.
- With three of our four bowl teams falling outside of a single day’s drive to Orlando, the length of stay for fans (and thus the associated economic impact and TDT revenue) was comparable to some of our best years for game attendance. The schools themselves accounted for almost 5,000 room nights for the 10 nights of bowl week.
- The bowl game broadcasts were viewed by a combine 11 million viewers nationally. The broadcast ratings of 3.0 (Russell Athletic Bowl) and 3.7 (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl) far exceeded the national average of 2.4 for non-semifinal bowl games.
- We made huge strides with our new community initiative, LIFT Orlando, in partnership with several community leaders and businesses. Through LIFT we collaborated with the residents of neighborhoods around the Citrus Bowl to identify opportunities for the stadium to be a “beating heart” that spurs growth and development within its own footprint.
- The existing philanthropic efforts of the Florida Citrus Sports Foundation have already seen great results through the LIFT initiative. Children from Orange Center Elementary (less than a mile from the stadium) participated in the Day For Kids player interaction event during bowl week for the second consecutive year. The FCSports Summer Camp, now in its 20
thyear in operation, moved to Frontline Outreach while the stadium was under construction but hosted 100 children – nearly all from within the stadium footprint –for a nine-week program of academics, athletics and other enrichment activities at no cost to their families. The summer camp will return to the Citrus Bowl campus again in 2015.
It was a year to remember at Florida Citrus Sports. We met these new challenges head-on with the help and support of our members and partners. We’ve come a long way from the organization that brought this city its first bowl game in 1947, and we owe that growth to all of you. As work on the Citrus Bowl continues toward 100% completion in April, we also look ahead to a bright future to share with the local community.