ESPN buys Boise’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Stability is the key word for Boise’s college football bowl game.

By Brian Murphy
© 2013 Idaho Statesman

With life as a stand-alone bowl game getting tougher, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl’s executive director started looking for safety and stability in numbers.

Kevin McDonald found it with ESPN Regional Television , a subsidiary of ESPN.

ERT has agreed to purchase the Boise bowl game, giving it ownership of eight of the 35 current postseason events. The change was announced Wednesday in Boise.

“In this business, you can have a couple bad games in a row and you’re kind of worrying about, ‘Can you continue?’ … I felt the best thing we could do for our game was to be part of something bigger,” said McDonald, a former Boise State player who became the bowl’s executive director in 2007.

“It felt like ESPN was that great opportunity to be a part of something bigger.”

The game, in its 17th year, also has new six-year agreements with the Mountain West and Mid-American conferences. The two leagues are now scheduled to send teams through the 2019 season.

“It adds a level of stability and security,” MAC Commissioner John Steinbrecher said of the bowl’s new ownership. “It will particularly help as we try to build matchups. You can move pieces around and the idea is to facilitate really good and competitive matchups.”

Said Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson: “It’s huge for several reasons. The stability of financial support. … This game has been here for nearly two decades and now you’ve got ESPN’s support behind it.”

The Mountain West will have at least five bowl tie-ins beginning in 2014. ESPN Regional Television owns four of those.

ERT owns the BBVA Compass Bowl (Birmingham, Ala.), Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth), Las Vegas Bowl, New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque), Texas Bowl (Houston) and Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu).

That gives the conferences and ESPN the ability to move teams around to prevent stale arrangements. Boise State, for example, has played in the Las Vegas Bowl for three consecutive years.

“There’s a certain mentality of that strength in numbers as it relates to selection and matchups of games. There’s going to be years where Community A gets a better game than Community B, but we’re going to be able to average those out,” said Pete Derzis, the senior vice president and general manager of ESPN Regional Television.

ERT brings its own accounting department, sales staff and other advantages, McDonald said. The Potato Bowl, with just three staff members, had to hire outside for those essential tasks.

“We’re going to save a lot of money on the expense side by being part of ESPN, and hopefully we’re going to grow our revenue,” McDonald said.

The Humanitarian Bowl Inc. — the bowl started in 1997 under that name — a nonprofit 501c3, reported revenue of $1.954 million in 2012 and assets of $762,169, according to tax documents.

It is in the process of dissolving, with lawyers and accountants instructing the board of directors on how exactly to unwind the nonprofit, McDonald said.

The group is transferring the license to run a bowl — the real value — to ERT through the NCAA, he said.

Neither McDonald nor ERT would divulge whether money was being exchanged. McDonald and the other staff members will become ERT employees.

Originally created as a destination for the champion of the Big West, the bowl has been played at Bronco Stadium throughout its existence.

Derzis said the game was attractive to his company because of its home on the blue turf and its affiliations with the Mountain West and MAC. ESPN televises regular season games from both conferences.

This year’s bowl will take place on Dec. 21, and ESPN will televise it.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444,
Twitter: @MurphsTurph

Game history

December 15, 2012: Utah State (WAC) 41 Toledo (MAC) 15
December 17, 2011: Ohio (MAC) 24 Utah State (WAC) 23
December 18, 2010: Northern Illinois (MAC) 40 Fresno State (WAC) 17
December 30, 2009: Idaho (WAC) 43 Bowling Green (MAC) 42
December 30, 2008: Maryland (ACC) 42 Nevada (WAC) 35
December 31, 2007: Fresno State (WAC) 40 Georgia Tech (ACC) 28
December 31, 2006: Miami (ACC) 21 Nevada (WAC) 20
December 28, 2005: Boston College (ACC) 27 Boise State (WAC) 21
December 27, 2004: Fresno State (WAC) 37 Virginia (ACC) 34
January 3, 2003: Georgia Tech (ACC) 52 Tulsa (WAC) 10
December 31, 2002: Boise State (WAC) 38 Iowa State (Big 12) 16
December 31, 2001: Clemson (ACC) 49 La Tech (WAC) 24
December 28, 2000: Boise State (Big West) 38 UTEP (WAC) 23
December 28, 1999: Boise State (Big West) 34 Louisville (C-USA) 31
December 30, 1998: Idaho (Big West) 42 So. Mississippi (C-USA) 35
December 29, 1997: Cincinnati (C-USA) 35 Utah State (Big West) 19

Sports columnist Brian Murphy writes about all sports in the Treasure Valley with a concentration on Boise State football and men's basketball. Murph has been with the Statesman since 2005. You can follow him on Twitter @MurphsTurph.

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