Orange Bowl Big On Hospitality!
Last week, Bootleg Co-Founder and Editor Jim "Emeritus" Rutter had a chance to visit in person with affable Orange Bowl Committee advance team member Larry Gautier , a Miami-area real estate specialist who is a pretty happy camper this year since he is an Auburn alumnus and his Tigers team will be competing for the national championship . Due to a recent non-violent labor uprising in our Bootleg Transcription Department, it has taken a week to get this interview published and for that we apologize. Larry is a great guy and we hope you, our readers, will enjoy this!
The Bootleg: We are here with Larry Gautier of the Orange Bowl Committee. Now that the selection has been made, what is the Orange Bowl Committee's specific focus at this point? Are you here to drum up local media interest, stir up local fan support, encourage folks to travel to Miami?
Larry Gautier: A little bit of each, all of the above. Media support, obviously we want to get out and do the radio interviews, TV interviews, this exclusive sit-down with The Bootleg, we think it's very important. The Orange Bowl is known for its hospitality, it's in our mission statement. We feel it is important not just to select the team and stand back - it's more about creating the experience! A big part of it is that once we select the team, there is a lot of excitement generated and we go out into the market and spend time with the students, the faculty, the staff, the media - to answer questions, drum up activation with regard to coming out to South Florida for the game. Kind of a "rah-rah" effort, if you will, answering questions the media may have. We spend a lot of time with the students, answering questions that they might have about making it out. Many have never been to Miami before. Basically it is a lot of Q & A, information-sharing, an effort to create the excitement from day one.
TB: How long have you served on the Orange Bowl Committee?
LG: I have been on the Committee since 1995.
TB: So you have been out here a few times, you had the USC Trojans a couple of times?It is not all that novel for you to have a West Coast team participate in the Orange Bowl?
LG: It's not. For the 2005 National Championship, we had USC come out [and mercilessly annihilate Oklahoma]. In '03 we had USC out to play Iowa. It was sort of the "Rose Bowl at the Orange Bowl", with the Pac-10 up against the Big Ten. It has been a couple of years since we had a Pac-10 team down there. It is kind of different to get them, but when we do, we want to give it our best shot
TB: You are on the "Orange Bowl Committee", but you are also on the "Selection Committee"?
LG: Yes, I'm on the Selection Committee. Within the Orange Bowl Committee, we have various sub-committees that the members participate in. For example, I am on the Selection Committee, I am on the Strategic Relations Committee as it relates to the BCS renewals. I am in charge of Pac-10 relations with Commissioner Larry Scott and also the Big Ten, so I am involved in a lot of spots, wear multiple hats.
TB: Did you get a chance to see the Cardinal play in person?
LG: I did not get to a Stanford game, some of our other members did. We do some traveling in October - as you know we have an ACC tie-in. Early travel is more "thank you"-style relationship-building.
I did get out when Iowa went to Arizona, went to that game out in Tucson. As part of that, I got to spend some time with Commissioner Scott and his staff. I have not been back west since then, but we have other members who have.
Bob Bowlsby and I go back a ways, he was the AD at Iowa when they came in '03 and that is when I got to know Bob really well. When Bob left to come here to Stanford, I just knew it was a matter of time before things turned around here because Bob Bowlsby has a very keen eye for talent, but more importantly for hiring "good people".
TB: If Stanford wasn't going to play for the BCS national championship game, and given that some of us felt that if we didn't win the conference we really shouldn't be playing in the Rose Bowl, our attention soon focused on the Orange, the Fiesta, the Alamo....Was there any real consideration given to a possible "swap" after the initial selections? There is some flexibility under certain circumstances. We aren't asking you to divulge top secret information (actually, who are we kidding, of course we are!), but was there much discussion?
LG: Obviously the BCS has contractual conference tie-ins. They have to go somewhere. We have the ACC. We do run through "what-if" scenarios, prior to the actual selection on Sunday after the conference championships are played on Saturday. Obviously we had Stanford on our radar screen for a while, but we did not know until the evening of the fourth, who was going to win, who was going to lose. If Auburn has lost their game, it would have had an impact on everything else. If Oregon had lost, which was not a high probability, but if they had, that would have had an impact on the situation. Stanford has always been on our radar screen. We always look for "unique matchups". If you look at our history over the last few years, you will notice that.
Last year, we were "supposed" to take Penn State, but we didn't take Penn State - we took Iowa, because it was a unique matchup. Iowa and Georgia Tech had not played before. Iowa's defense, which was very good, was very interested to see how they would do against Josh Nesbitt and Dwyer and that whole crew from Georgia Tech. We go do our due diligence with the fans. We get a straw poll and if there are choices, we try to get a sense for whom they want to see.
TB: So we can discount the cynicism of some fans that the selection decision, if subjective, will be based solely on the TV ratings and ability to draw fans and sell out the ticket allocation, that type of thing. You do try to look at what would make for an exciting game? How do you balance that with the practical necessity of running a bowl from a financial standpoint?
LG: We do try to balance things, obviously taking into account the logistics from a fan's perspective. If all things are equal and there is a team on the East Coast, and it's easier to get here than from the West Coast, we will probably go in that direction, if all things are even. However, in this case, it was not "all things equal". Obviously Stanford had a great year, a number-four ranking.
TB: No offense to the Huskies, but obviously Connecticut winning their game helped Stanford become more attractive in the eyes of the Orange Bowl Committee....
LG: Sure. If UConn had lost, for example, and West Virginia now was the Big East champion, we would have been looking at West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, the whole "state vs. state" situation and those guys don't often play- that would have made for a pretty compelling and unique matchup.
TB: And for the record, is Virginia Tech located in "East" Virginia or "West" Virginia?
LG: Uh....that's in Blacksburg. [Looking momentarily confused until he realizes "Emeritus" is just messing with him!]
(Laughing) So yes, obviously Stanford was always on our radar screen..."at #4". With 11-1, what Coach Harbaugh has done, that deserves to be rewarded. But to your point, had West Virginia won (the Big East), there would have been a lot more burning of the midnight oil! Obviously we are very excited to have Stanford down there!
TB: Stanford has had one ACC match-up in a Florida-based bowl game - we dropped a close one to Clemson in the 1986 Gator Bowl. It is actually the third bowl trip to Florida for the Cardinal, Stanford having beaten up Penn State 24-3 in the 1993 Blockbuster Bowl at what was then known as "Joe Robbie Stadium". Did you look back at the attendance numbers for Stanford in those games - was that ever a consideration?
LG: Never a consideration. We have been down this path before. The Orange Bowl being a BCS bowl, with Stanford never having been there, with a Coach Harbaugh taking the team to 11-1, Stanford has an international base of fans. That is something that hasn't been discussed, but it was a serious consideration. Miami is an international city. In our due diligence we had heard that the international Obviously Stanford is a tremendous school and its graduates have gone to the four corners of the earth. We thought if they came down to a major BCS bowl in Miami, then maybe it would be a little more compelling for them to get there, flying in from Europe, from South America. And sure enough, talking to some of your Stanford alumni folks, that appears to be happening. Call it reunions, road trips.
TB: Early signs seem to point to interest being strong. Is there a realistic expectation that Stanford could sell out its entire allocation of 17,500 tickets? That is a pretty big allocation for a school with less than 7,000 undergraduate students.
LG: The sales have gone pretty well - right at the beginning. You folks have already surpassed what you sold for the Sun Bowl last year. It is trending pretty well. The logistics have not been the issue - the cost of the airfare is a challenge. The fares are higher that they typically would be - because of the tough economy. Airlines have cut back flights and seat availability so it has put pressure on pricing, but what we are hearing hands down is that people want to go to the game, that they are trying to find a way to get there.
TB: We have had discussions on our message boards about getting charters together, because fans are fairly desperate to go, but it is tough - you start bringing your kids along at $700+ per ticket, things can get out of hand - unless you can use airline miles - and this is of course the perfect time to use those! Still, it seems a lot of long-suffering Stanford Football fans somehow are finding a way....
LG: Yes, for sure. It is going to be a memorable experience, a "wow" experience, and we think that is how Stanford fans are looking at it!
TB: What percentage of the Orange Bowl' s budget comes from ticket sales versus TV, versus corporate sponsorship?
LG: Hmm. That is a good question - I don't have the exact figures, but the majority of it is ticket sales. Naturally, with the large pay-out, people think we get all that money, but that goes to the conferences. It's ticket sales, concession sales, those sort of things - not that different than what Stanford gets from a home game.
TB: What about the naming rights, with Discover Financial coming in, replacing long-time name sponsor FedEx, which had been involved for 20 years, right?
LG: Yes, but a lot of that money goes to the network. Basically this year, with FedEx rolling off, ESPN controls those naming rights.
TB: So ESPN actually controls the Bowl's naming rights and benefits from that?
LG: That is correct.
TB: So you focus on game-day, but you must also be getting paid by the networks for the content...
We have categories, and ESPN
has their categories and they have first dibs. We have some local and regional
rights, but on a national basis, they control those relationships. To the extent
our local relationships don't conflict with their national relationships, then
it works out okay.
LG: We get some rights fees, but it is not a big number.
TB: And you have some sponsorship opportunities...
We have categories, and ESPN has their categories and they have first dibs. We have some local and regional rights, but on a national basis, they control those relationships. To the extent our local relationships don't conflict with their national relationships, then it works out okay.
TB: Has the Orange Bowl been selling out in recent years?
LG: It has. Last year we came up a little bit short, a couple of thousand seats short. The only reason was because the game was on January 5th, which was a Wednesday, a very tough slot. School was back in session Iowa, the last time they came to our bowl in 2003, they brought 47,000 fans.
TB: The entire state shut down...
LG: Yes, the state of Iowa shut down! This past year, because school was in session, they "only" brought 30,000 and you will recall they had just come off of some awful floods. The economy, economic hardship, the difficult date. They still brought 30,000, which deserves kudos to them!
TB: Will Visa, MasterCard, or American Express be accepted during the week?
LG: (Laughing) I don't think so! No, obviously we are going to accept everything. Discover, their demographic of college students and young professionals, we fit right in their sweet-spot. FedEx, as you know, started sponsoring the PGA Tour, their marketing base has shifted a little. Discover has come on very strong, they have activated very quickly. I don't know if you have seen the commercials with Bobby Bowden and Lou Holtz - they are running a Discover commercial.
TB: Haven't seen that, but since you mention it, we did hear that Bobby Bowden is going to be an honorary game captain - would that be a clear indication of an ACC-bias, blatantly attempting to influence the game's outcome?
LG: (Laughing) No, no. In light of the fact that he just retired - everyone loves Bobby - we want to honor him and he will do the honorary coin-flip.
TB: The Santa Clara Broncos once came out to the Orange Bowl, in 1950, what is the longest distance anyone has traveled?
LG: The Washington Huskies came out in 1985 and played Oklahoma [becoming the first Pac-10 team to win an Orange Bowl], I believe that was the farthest distance traveled.
TB: Most of us recall the time the Huskies came out and played the second-ranked and two-touchdown favorite Miami Hurricanes in 1994 in the infamous "Whammy in Miami" game (Washington 38, Miami 20), but that was in the Orange Bowl, the stadium, not in the "Orange Bowl" game...
LG: Right, that was not the Orange Bowl game. That was a good game, that was a real good game.
TB: Now, you have to be pleased with Virginia Tech, the ACC champions, they have been to your bowl before and have traveled pretty well, right?
L.G.: Yes, their victory in Charlotte, that was a stepping stone to get to our game. They have been down there before. They came down two years ago and played Cincinnati, they beat them 20-7. They are familiar with our bowl.
TB: We were discussing the television relationship - is there some sort of liaison you work with to help with selection decisions. ESPN, being what they are, must have superior tools when analyzing the potential ratings of various match-ups for television, do you rely on those at all?
LG: Not really. At the end of the day, ESPN will not really get into our business. If we ask them for their opinion of things, they will give it, but they do not "direct" us in the selection process.
TB: They are broadcasting almost all of the significant bowl games, are they not?
LG: They have all the bowls, except for a couple in Texas, the Sun Bowl and the Cotton Bowl, I think.
TB: Did the Orange Bowl ever give consideration to "not" joining the BCS? We know the Cotton Bowl went their own way, or wasn't included, or whatever...
LG: Yeah, the Cotton Bowl made the decision not to participate. We never made that decision. We felt we have always been a top-tier bowl and we want to continue on that way. The Cotton Bowl made a business decision to step back. Obviously with Jerry Jones' new stadium, they would like to get back in. The "Chic Fil A Bowl" (formerly the Peach Bowl), with their stadium in Atlanta (the Georgia Dome), they will want to get involved as well. It is going to be a bit of musical chairs. There will be "x" bowls and "y" opportunities and the two do not match. From our perspective, we have to be sure that we do everything right and make sure that we host the teams well and that it is a job well done.
TB: Why specifically, is the Orange Bowl excited to have Stanford?
LG: I go back to what we talked about before, that Stanford itself is so unique.
TB: You don't have a lot of private schools. You have had Notre Dame.
We look at things a
little differently. When we have the at-large pick, which we do, our committee
looks at things differently. We really stress the importance of hospitality -
that may sound a little corny in this day and age. We look at things like
"reward", we look at things like whether a team would appreciate being
there. Obviously there is a set of teams that have to go somewhere,
but when our pick comes up, we are big on hospitality, we don't want to just
plug a team in. If we have got choices, we want someone who wants to be there
and in our due diligence, Stanford really wanted to be there. I was at practice
on Monday and the guys saw the Orange jacket. Coach made sure I was there within
eye-shot and I got them while they were coming off the field and saw
them all. Good kids!
We look at things a little differently. When we have the at-large pick, which we do, our committee looks at things differently. We really stress the importance of hospitality - that may sound a little corny in this day and age. We look at things like "reward", we look at things like whether a team would appreciate being there. Obviously there is a set of teams that have to go somewhere, but when our pick comes up, we are big on hospitality, we don't want to just plug a team in. If we have got choices, we want someone who wants to be there and in our due diligence, Stanford really wanted to be there. I was at practice on Monday and the guys saw the Orange jacket. Coach made sure I was there within eye-shot and I got them while they were coming off the field and saw them all. Good kids!
TB: What would you say are some of the "primary highlights" for the visiting fans? We know the Rose Bowl has some unique traditions like the Tournament of Roses Parade and the "Lawry's Beef Bowl"....What about the Orange Bowl will come away as special memories for them?
You aren't going to allow our Heisman candidate
quarterback Andrew Luck to get on a WaveRunner, are you?
LG: We have several things - for the players, they will have a beach outing, where they reserve the beach out in front of the hotel (the Fontainebleau) and bring in WaveRunners and other water activities, and we feed 'em with a huge spread.
You aren't going to allow our Heisman candidate quarterback Andrew Luck to get on a WaveRunner, are you?
L.G. (Laughing) Well, we will let Coach Harbaugh make that call! Nobody has gotten hurt yet. On the fan side, on December 31st, we have shut down the world-famous Ocean Drive on South Beach and we have renamed it "Orange Drive" so it is going to be like a pedestrain mall, with entertainment, different acts - Jamie Foxx will be there one night [apparently British pop singer Natasha Bedingfield as well!] We also have the Coaches' Luncheon, that will be there. Also on New Year's Eve, we partner with downtown Fort Lauderdale right on "The Riverwalk", which is really nice, to do some fun things. Then finally, on game day, at 11:30 AM when the gates open up until kick-off at 8:00 PM, we have the "FanZone", which is really neat. We have multiple stages with live entertainment and a lot of different foods, things for the families. So it is a lot of action and fun, we take those things into consideration. It is all about creating an engging experience for the fans. As we all know, it's the little things and we have been doing this a long time!
TB: We have talked about hospitality - what message would you like to send out to Stanford fans considering coming out to the Orange Bowl? Surely you don't want people to "commute" to the game.
LG: Sure, we would like to see people turn it into a vacation. Obviously the students can't do that...
TB: The students have been working on a big petition to get clemency so they can miss a few days of classes and travel out to the game...
LG: (Laughing) I heard about that! Actually, I heard it was dependent on how everybody does on their final exams! Make it a vacation, stay for a few days, see the Florida Keyes, the Everglades is great, there are a lot of things to do, Disney World - I know you have Disneyland down here, but Disney World, that is a whole different ballgame. Miami - you can get anywhere you want - many people have elected to go on a cruise - Miami is the world's biggest cruise port. That can be done. The thing I guess I want to express...my football coach once told me that the worst thing would be to look back and say "If I could do it all over again, I would have done it differently". I never forgot that as a high school player - and what I am saying here that is that Stanford may never get back to the Orange Bowl. This may be the one time. I am not suggesting that they won't be back, but it is a very rare oddity.
TB: Admittedly, Stanford doesn't experience 11-win seasons very often (in fact, never before this year) or finish the regular season ranked in the national top-five!
LG: Sure, but it's not a reflection on the program, this year's circumstances just represent a rare oddity. As you mentioned earlier, we have another Pac-10 team in the national championship game...
TB: And it is the year the Rose Bowl has to take a "non-automatic-qualifier" school...
LG: Yes, the pieces came together. The Orange Bowl is the most unique experience from an overall fan perspective that you will ever see - yes, the Rose Bowl has the parade and it's wonderful, the Rose Bowl is the "Granddaddy Of Them All", but from the standpoint of the experience, for several days, of being around a big-time football game and the fans and the aura - there is nothing like it and I am not saying that because I am sitting here, but because I have traveled - I have been to 75 of the 120 Division I schools, I have been to every bowl game. The National Championship Game is a special deal if you are one of the schools that are participating, but the Orange Bowl by far, bar-none - just being there, being on South Beach, the overall experience, there is just nothing like it! I would totally encourage your fans that yes, it might be a sacrifice, but it may not come back again. They can come back to Miami, absolutely, but to be part of something very special...That is our message: Be part of the experience! Stanford may get their first BCS bowl win here in Miami. This could be a very important thing. It was very important to the Iowa Hawkeyes last year, when they came down. That was their first BCS bowl - and they have won a lot of bowls, but that was their first BCS bowl win and it really helped to take their football program to the next level.
TB: Now Larry, the current spread is Stanford -3 [over/under = 58), how much have you personally put down on the mighty Cardinal?
L.G. (Laughing hard!) I tell you what! All I can say is that my track record of whom I am aligned with, it has been pretty darn good over the years! I don't know what it is, but....
TB: So, there must be a seperate committee member focused on the Hokies?
LG: Yes, we have two "advance teams". The other one is assigned to Virginia Tech. Three of us are here now, assigned to the at-large market [John Mass - Corporate Sponsors, Anna Hernandez - Marketing] We choose, just so you know, John and Anna and I chose to come here to the at-large market! As excited as you all are, we get just as excited! I know it sounds corny, but it is true! It is all about the people and we have a good time! A chance to be part of history!
TB: Earlier, you mentioned re-naming a street to "Orange Drive". If Stanford wins, can we re-name the address of Sun Life Stadium to "2269 John Elway Blvd" instead of "2269 Dan Marino Blvd", you know, for at least 24 hours?
LG: (Laughing) "Cardinal Concourse"! We'll paint the stadium "Cardinal red"!
TB: Excellent! Seriously, for a moment, what kind of referees are we going to have for this game?
LG: Honestly, I should know that. I know that it will not be ACC or Pac-10. It will be independent. Usually they will be from the Big Ten or the SEC as a general rule. It is one of those two.
TB: In Florida, what is the plural of "y'all"?
LG: "You guys!"
TB: In Bama, it is "all y'all", right?
LG: I am an Auburn Tiger and when I go back to Miami it is "you guys", instead of a "y'all" thing. There is definitely that distinction!
TB: Will you be attending the National Championship Game to watch your alma mater?
LG: I don't know. I just got off the phone and the ticket prices are like $1,500!
TB: C'mon! That's "chump-change" for BCS Bowl Committee Members! One would think whomever greased Cam Newton's dad could come up with a few tickets!
LG: [Laughing, but probably making a note to have my knees capped] Ha, right!
TB: Now, the Orange Bowl half-time show is truly legendary. This year, we get the Goo Goo Dolls! How is it that they got selected? The younger folks think that is king of cool.
LG: I told you that the Orange Bowl has various sub-committees - we have some younger members. We got together with what I call the "cool" Orange Bowl Committee Members, the students in the area, and asked them what was kind of "cool" - we put some names in the hat and try to come up with something that would be fun for everybody.
TB: Will the two schools' marching bands be allowed to participate?
LG: Oh yeah!
TB: Even the Stanford Band?
LG: I want to see the Stanford Band! We are out of the box! We want the Stanford Band to show up! I am so sure we'll have control of the content - we want them to do their thing and that will be fine. I am sure they will keep it within the right parameters.
TB: Uh...uh huh! Well, you can rest assured that University administrators will ensure it is! Ok, so we noticed on the official Orange bowl website (www.orangebowl.org) that Stanford is listed on the left and Virginia Tech is listed on the right. Is that because there is an inherent perception of Stanford University as being "left-coast liberal" and therefore you have deliberately chosen to list us to the left.....or is it simply alphabetical?
LG: Uh, Virgina Tech is the home team. [Then realizing once again that I am kidding him!] The ACC champion is the home team.
TB: Is there any real advantage in that?
TB: Maybe they get first choice of uniform color?
LG: Maybe, that varies every year as well. We flip that around, so there is no advantage.
T.B.: And then there is "The Patch", that will go on the uniforms, right?
TB: In your personal opinion, and you may officially represent the Committee if you like: Which taste better, Florida Oranges or California Oranges?
California! Oh yeah, absolutely! I have seen bowls of oranges
everywhere, on campus. I can be honest. They are beautiful! TB: Do you know what a "Hokie"
TB: So we will assume the "Florida Orange Growers" are not sponsoring the Bowl this year?
LG: No, they are not!
LG: I do now! I did not before. I think it is like an exotic bird, or a fictitious bird?
TB: Well, as you say, the "Hokie Bird" is like a turkey bird, the "Hokie" name itself, much like the Georgetown "Hoya", comes from an early Virginia Tech cheer, a Latin or Celtic chant or something. Hey, we had to do the research too - had no idea.
LG: Isn't it fun to learn interesting things about the individual schools?
TB: So True. Okay, so thank you very much, Larry. Get ready for the "classy, but cruel" Stanford Cardinal!
LG: Really looking forward to having you guys down in Miami! We hope some more folks will make their way to South Florida!
California! Oh yeah, absolutely! I have seen bowls of oranges
everywhere, on campus. I can be honest. They are beautiful! TB: Do you know what a "Hokie"
TB: Do you know what a "Hokie" is?
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