No city contract yet for Lending Tree Bowl

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Game officials not sure if game will be played at Ladd or USA

MOBILE, Ala (WKRG) — The 2021 Lending Tree Bowl is about four months away, but at this point there is no contract between game officials and the City of Mobile, and it’s still unclear where the game will be played.

Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration “is currently in negotiations with game officials,” according to city spokesperson Jason Johnson.

A major issue is the City’s financial support of the game. The previous contract, which expired after last December’s game, was originally negotiated by the Mike Dow administration and was renewed a decade ago by then Mayor Sam Jones. It required the City of Mobile to provide up to $1.1 million to support the game, minus the amount paid by the game’s title sponsor. Current Mayor Sandy Stimpson has strongly criticized that arrangement

In a 2018 interview with WKRG News 5, Stimpson said, “I don’t think that at the beginning anybody would have predicted where it is now. In my opinion, the contract would never be renegotiated with those terms.”

Initially it was an agreement that suited the City well, as GMAC paid $900,000 a year from 2001 through 2010. GoDaddy.com paid $600,000 annually as title sponsor from 2011 through 2015, meaning the City paid $500,000 per year during that period. Dollar General paid just $200,000 from 2016 through 2018, meaning the City was on the hook for $900,000 – a complete financial turnaround from the period when GMAC sponsored the game.

Jerry Silverstein, president of the game, says last year, online mortgage company Lending Tree paid $250,000 to sponsor the game, meaning the City contributed $850,000. Due to COVID-19, the teams from Georgia State and Western Kentucky stayed just one night in Mobile. Many events typically held prior to the game were canceled. That allowed the game to accrue “a small surplus,” according to Silverstein.

“But we did have some costs we usually don’t have, due to COVID protocols and sanitizing,” Silverstein added.

Silverstein said he wasn’t sure when a contract would be finalized and presented to the City Council for approval. The seven-person Council will have at least three new members after the August 24 municipal election.

When the game debuted in Mobile in 1999, it was one of 23 bowl games. This year, it’s one of 44.

The 2021 Lending Tree Bowl will be played Saturday December 18, with a 5:45 pm kickoff. It is one of seven bowl games that day.

It’s uncertain whether the Lending Tree Bowl will follow the lead of the Senior Bowl and move from Ladd-Peebles Stadium to the University of South Alabama’s new Hancock-Whitney Stadium.

“To be determined,” said Silverstein.

Silverstein also said there is “absolutely no truth” to rumors that ESPN is trying to purchase the game from the local non-profit organization that runs the event. ESPN owns and operates 14 bowl games, including ones in Birmingham and Montgomery.

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