Arkansas on the Sidelines of Football Tourism

One of the nation's largest industries today is tourism. Communities and businesses looking to compete for visitor dollars are always looking for new attractions to bring visitors and lately many are turning to college football's dedicated fans to get those visitors. Not everyone though is taking that approach.

For years, the primary focus of cities wanting football tourism was landing a bowl game. Just recently Montgomery, Alabama with a metro area population of less than 208,000 successfully joined the ranks of communities hosting bowl games.

Bowl games are seen as particularly attractive because the games are all but guaranteed to draw a million television viewers who will see B roll footage of local attractions and the city name will pop up frequently in stories on the college post-season. Fans tend to come and stay for several days as well.

There is a limit though to the number of post-season slots available because not every college team will reach .500 and teams are limited to a single bowl appearance per season.

Large metro areas like Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta have already established their post-season credentials. The Dallas-Fort Worth region hosts three bowl games and the FCS championship game and will host the FBS championship. Atlanta hosts a major bowl game and the SEC championship. Both cities have now expanded their reach into college football by hosting regular season games. Nashville and even Shreveport have expressed their interest into joining the fray by hosting regular season games.

The City of Mobile pledges $1.15 million a year for the GoDaddy Bowl. Under the agreement the city receives most of that back as the bowl reimburses the city an amount equal to the title sponsorship.

The value of having an FBS team within a city has even led to cities helping insure the financial health of local teams.

Mobile provides Ladd-Peebles Stadium to South Alabama free of charge under their current agreement. The deal allows USA to have lower overhead than most Sun Belt teams who have to pay for the upkeep and staffing of their stadiums.

The city of Birmingham, Alabama helps UAB football remain financially viable as well. The city is in the fourth year of a contract where the city purchases 5,000 football season tickets each year.

Arkansas State has become a target for cities hoping to cash in on football visitors with promoters associated with Busch Stadium offering a rumored $1.5 million to the Red Wolves to move the 2015 Missouri game there and Kansas City offering a rumored $2 million for the same game.

The Razorbacks have enjoyed an agreement with Dallas that pays them to relocate a game every other year to Cowboys Stadium.

Outside of those overtures to move games away from Arkansas, cities in the state of Arkansas are mostly uninvolved in the business of using college football to attract visitors.

Texarkana hosts a Division II bowl game and Bentonville bid on the Division II football championship offering a local high school stadium, the game went to the new state-of-the-art Sporting Park stadium in Kansas City, KS.

Little Rock made an effort toward a bowl game but to gain certification the game needed a television contract. While Little Rock was trying to find a TV partner willing to carry the game on dates that they were looking to host, Montgomery's leadership went to ESPN Regional's sister company ESPN Events and turned their efforts over to the company which now operates nearly a third of all bowl games. Montgomery ended up with a bowl while Little Rock's bid failed.

When it comes to regular season games, Little Rock is taking a different approach as well. While two cities are offering Arkansas State seven figures to move the Mizzou game to their city, Little Rock has issued a standing offer of $35,000. Not a $35,000 payment, that is what the stadium is willing to accept from AState for use of the venue.

With the potential that exists for drawing visitors for football games not only will cities like Little Rock have to change their approach to attract those games, but the cities that host FBS schools can no longer take for granted that home games will be played at home if other cities place a high value on those games.