Bruce Binkowski
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Local innkeepers and restaurateurs hoping to make a killing on this year's Holiday Bowl battle between the University of Nebraska and the University of Southern California may have to lower their expectations, judging from an account in the Omaha World-Herald.

Not only is USC within easy driving distance, possibly resulting in fewer hotel stays, it turns out that Nebraska fans aren't that excited about plunking down their money for the trip out west.

Noting that "the Huskers played in the Holiday Bowl following the 2009 and 2010 seasons, which might dampen interest in this trip," the paper reported Monday that two big Omaha travel agencies have decided not to charter planes to the game.

“We talked about it but were concerned about the repeat trip to the Holiday Bowl,” Peg Gullikson of Omaha's Travel and Transport told the paper. “And if the alumni association didn’t feel like they would fill a charter plane, we probably couldn’t do it.”

Added the paper, "fans traveling to the bowl could also be hurt by high airfares during the Christmas season. Round-trip tickets from Omaha on Monday started at $755 for a Dec. 26 arrival and a Dec. 29 departure."

A wintery road trip here would be a little cheaper, if more hazardous.

"Fans thinking of a round-trip, 3,190-mile drive from Omaha to San Diego will benefit from falling gas prices," the story noted. "A 2012 Toyota Camry making the trip would use an estimated 127 gallons of gas, costing about $360."

News that the local tourism establishment's prime December sports show may not be all that it’s been cracked up to be, visitor-wise, is seldom, if ever, acknowledged in public here.

The game is subsidized by hotel taxes handed out by the board of the Tourism Marketing District, a group of wealthy Republican hotel moguls, including Atlas Hotel's Terry Brown and Evans Hotels’ Bill Evans, along with Bartell Hotel's Richard Bartell, who have traditionally showered the football games with tax-derived largesse.

During the brief reign of Democrat Bob Filner, the board sued the now fallen mayor for control of tax money it allots to groups claiming to boost tourism here. The group's performance in attracting business to the city, outside of their personal financial realms, is still quietly debated in tourist industry circles, though none will speak on the record regarding the triumvirate.

Critics say they fear being shut out of future grants from the district, as well as the opprobrium of U-T San Diego, owned by GOP mega-millionaire developer Douglas Manchester, who controls the Grand del Mar resort.

Reached by phone regarding the news that the Nebraska charters hadn't materialized, Bruce Binkowski, executive director of the San Diego Bowl Game Association, which runs both the Holiday and Poinsettia bowls, said he was not overly troubled.

"Are we happy about it, no. But it doesn't concern me a whole heck of a lot," Binkowski said, adding that many Nebraska fans are expected to arrive by plane from elsewhere in the country.

This year's Tourism Marketing District subsidy to both bowls is $450,000, which goes to so-called team payouts.

Backers assert that the “free media coverage” of the city justifies the subsidy.

"The Holiday Bowl is televised nationally on ESPN and annually the game attracts 5 to 6 million viewers," according to the bowl group's application for funding in October of last year.

"The ‘beauty shots’ will again be part of the ESPN telecast in 2014. In addition, the game is broadcast nationally on ESPN radio and the Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade, a Holiday Bowl production, is televised nationally. The parade takes place either on game day or the day before the Holiday Bowl."

According to the bowl game association's most recent federal disclosure filing, covering the 12-month period from March 2012 through February of last year, the non-profit posted total revenue of $10,248,172, about $2 million of which came in the form of contributions and grants.

Executive director Binkowski received total compensation of $324,329, including a bonus of $40,000 and $26,435 in nontaxable benefits, according to the filing. Assistant executive director Mark Neville got a total of $245,698.

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Comments

aardvark Dec. 9, 2014 @ 1:48 p.m.

I never knew Binkowski made that much. Looks like he's come a long ways from doing radio locally and being the PA announcer at Qualcomm Stadium.

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Visduh Dec. 9, 2014 @ 7:44 p.m.

At first, when talk of having a permanent bowl game in San Diego was heard, it was being sold to the locals as a way of giving the SDSU Aztecs a way to appear in a bowl game if they earned it. That came toward the end of the Coryell and Gilbert era on the mesa, when most bowl berths were sewed up by established conferences. And the name of the game that was floated was the Carnation Bowl. (Yeah, I know how wimpy that sounds, but it is true.)

Of course, the real reason for having a SD bowl game was as a bonanza for the local tourism cabal, and a boost to what was a slow time of year for visitors. And so was born the Holiday Bowl. (SDSU appeared in it a whopping one time, in 1986.) If it is such a benefit to the hotel keepers, why does it need a subsidy? The bowl should pay its own way and then some, and the tourism beneficiaries should pony up some help out of gratitude.

Over the years, there were complaints about the schools competing, as far as attendance at the game. Very often, it they weren't too far away for travel, they were too close by (the complaint about USC this year.) Some folks are never satisfied. But one university, BYU, has appeared eleven times. The Mormon fans of that team were notoriously tight-fisted, even to the point of arranging to stay with fellow church members in the local area to avoid motel/hotel room rents. (The old joke was they would show up in town with the Ten Commandments and a ten dollar bill. And they would leave, having broken neither.) That wasn't what the proponents of the bowl had in mind at all.

Given the mixed history of the bowl, maybe "Binki" earns his fat salary. Or not.

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