A lot of times I write articles for this website for fun. I will express a controversial opinion or make fun of another school to get a chuckle or a rise out of some of you. I write this article to express my absolute frustration surrounding Iowa's invitation to the Outback Bowl. I'm hoping it will be therapeutic.
The Outback Bowl has only been around since January 1996, when the Hall of Fame Bowl was re-named to promote its corporate sponsor Outback Steakhouse, Inc. Despite Iowa having never played in the "Outback Bowl," we certainly have some history with it. Many of you may recall Iowa getting passed (screwed) over so a Michigan team with a lesser record could lose to Alabama. While those of us who traveled to San Antonio for yet another Alamo Bowl victory over Texas Tech had a fine time, being relegated to a lower prestige bowl game with a smaller payout left a bittersweet feeling.
It was right then that I started my personal boycott of Outback Steakhouses.
On December 7, 2003, Iowa fans found another reason to be upset at the people who run the Outback Bowl. The 2003 Hawkeyes' hard work and 9-3 record earned them an invitation to the Outback Bowl. This should have been a happy moment for Iowa fans as well. Unfortunately, Iowa's opponent, the Florida Gators learned of their bowl bid on December 3, 2003.
Like any loyal fan base that learned that their team was to play a bowl game only 134.81 miles away from "The Swamp," Florida fans deluged the Ticketmaster outlets as well as their University ticket offices seeking seats to the game. Because of the head start they were given, all but 2000 of the available tickets were snapped up prior to Iowa learning that they would be playing in the same game. And why not? If you knew that you could see your Hawks play a New Year's Day bowl game against a perennial SEC powerhouse in Ames and the weather would be so warm you could wear shorts, you wouldn't hesitate to buy your ticket and take the roadie over from Iowa City.
Every media outlet is reporting that Iowa's initial and perhaps only allotment of tickets for this 2004 Outback Bowl is 15,000 seats out of a stadium that seats 65,657. Assuming Iowa fans snapped up those 2000 Ticketmaster seats, and quickly dispose of their 15,000 seat allotment to the season ticket holder faithful, that will leave 48,657 seats filled primarily by Florida residents. Of those Florida residents, it would be safe to assume many live within a couple hours of the Stadium. The result: a game not played on a neutral site. The Iowa contingent will feature many older, wealthier Iowa season ticket holders who are fiercely loyal, but less apt to loudly cheer their team on. Enjoy the home game Florida!
Naturally, since this will amount to a home game, the fine people who anonymously manage this bowl event (few names or contact information are contained on their website) have done no favors for the City that hosts this event. According to the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau website, "the Outback Bowl generates an estimated annual economic impact of $30.2 Million." That's a lot of money being spent on hotel rooms, rental cars, restaurant patronage and in the case of Iowa fans, beer. The 17,000 Iowa fans that are fortunate enough to make New Year's plans in Tampa would consist of 26% of the total attendees of the sold out game, or $7,852,000 of that expected revenue. That leaves the Florida fans responsible for $22,348,00 of the money spent in Tampa.
It is unrealistic to expect Florida fans to contribute much to the Tampa tourism industry. They are going to drive to the game that morning, attend the game, maybe take in a dinner in Tampa and go home. Many of those who would actually spend extended time in Tampa either live there or are no doubt staying with Friends. Don't agree? Go back to the Ames example. When you traveled to the Iowa-Iowa State game, did you stick around in Ames for a couple of days? Did you go a couple days early? Of course not. You got in and got the hell out. And Florida fans, jaded with bowl appearances are likely going to do the same thing.
Conversely, last year Iowa traveled 50,000 to the Orange Bowl. You could spot Iowans and our pasty skin everywhere. We rolled in to South Beach, Lauderdale and points in between and ate, drank and dropped our hard earned blue collar dollars all over that city. We rolled into that stadium parking lot 10 hours before game time, taunted anything wearing red, and left in a daze. While the game's outcome sucked, Iowa earned a reputation as a school whose fans traveled well.
In future years, when the back door meetings of the Outback powers that be convene, will they say Iowa only brought 17,000 to the 2004 game? Will they say the hotels and restaurants were empty when Iowa came? Will the effects of this game be used as an excuse to leap frog us for some school whose state has more television sets? I hope not, but we'll never know.
I read these chat boards like all of you. I too share your pain in the difficulties in getting tickets to the game. I read a post on Hawkeyenation.com by a poster named "Elginhawk" who claims to have recently contacted the Outback bowl website regarding this disparity in treatment. Elginhawk posted the following response from Mike Schulze, the director of Communications for the Outback Bowl:
"We are holding considerably more tickets than that for our big ten team. We would have loved to announce our Big Ten team last week, even the prior week but were held off by the conference and BCS bowls because of the possibility of Ohio State getting a bid to the BCS. In past years we announced the big ten team a week to 10 days prior to the SEC team (because of their champ game). We spoke to both potential big ten schools to find out how many tickets we should hold for them."
If this response is to be taken as accurate, the talking head at the Outback Bowl essentially is saying that they announced Florida early merely because they could. Of course, if their excuse of waiting to see what happened to Ohio State is to be accepted, one would have to wonder why they weren't waiting to see what would become of 9-2 Tennessee, another team that the BCS had not released. Could it be that the Outback Bowl selection committee consists of a number of Florida alumni who did not want to see their four-loss Gators slide to the Peach Bowl or even the Music City Bowl at the expense of their archrivals?
I have no reason to doubt Elginhawk. And as a result, it lead me to hold out hope that more tickets remain set aside for Iowa fans. I cannot believe that Iowa would have told the Outback Bowl that they only needed 15,000 seats to the game. But if they did, I'm not holding my breath until my ticket request is approved.
I'm not going to advocate that you join me in my continuing boycott of Outback Steakhouses. You are adults. You can make up your own mind on whether you wish to dine at Outback, or its affiliate restaurants Carrabba's, Roy's, Lee Roy Selmon's, Cheeseburger in Paradise and Bonefish Grill. But I will leave you with this shocking bit of information.
According to the book "Restaurant Confidential" published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion appetizer has over 2,130 calories and 163 grams of fat. Even better, a plate of Cheese Fries from the Outback has 3010 calories, 217 grams of fat and 90 grams of saturated fat. That is the dietary equivalent of two T-bone steak dinners with Caesar salads and two baked potatoes loaded with butter. Yum.
In the end, it's not just the Outback's treatment of the Big Ten schools that is tough to swallow.
The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hawkeyenation.com or Hawkeye Nation, the magazine.