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.