MOBILE, Ala (WKRG) — Is the future of the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile in doubt? There are three more games on the contract with the City of Mobile, but Mayor Sandy Stimpson tells News 5 the current financial situation is not sustainable.
“As written, the contract, in my opinion, would never be renegotiated with those terms,” Stimpson said.
When the game started in 1999, the city guaranteed about 1.1 million dollars for the game. But the deal stipulated that the game’s organizers would find sponsorship money to cover most of that cost.
Originally, the concept worked well for the city. After the first game, GMAC was brought on as the title sponsor and provided about $900,000 a year for naming rights to the game over a decade, from 2000-2010. In 2011, GoDaddy.com became the title sponsor, for $600,000 annually. But when discount retailer Dollar General came on board two years ago, it got a discount sponsorship price, $200,000 a year. That means while the city provided about $200,000 for each GMAC Bowl, and $500,00 for each GoDaddy Bowl, it’s now spending $900,000 for the Dollar General Bowl.
“I don’t think that at the beginning anybody would have predicted where it is,” the mayor said.
This December’s bowl game will be the 20th in Mobile. The bowl game contract runs out after the 22nd game in 2020. Stimpson says the game’s days could be numbered.
“Certainly at the level where it stands today, someone would have to show me a new set of numbers to show me that’s an economically viable option,” Stimpson said.
Several city council members say they had no idea the bowl game financial split had tipped so dramatically. Some say, however, even at 900,000 taxpayer dollars a year, the Dollar General Bowl might be a good investment.
“Has it been worth it when we have two college teams with bands and all of their fans coming to Mobile for almost an entire week,” asked Councilman John Williams. “Maybe it is worth it. Maybe it is.”
Jerry Silverstein says it is. He is the President of the Dollar General Bowl. He tells News 5 that the overall economic impact of the game more than covers the city’s investment.
Silverstein says he is proud of the games ability to attract national firms to be title sponsors over the past two decades. He says it is getting increasingly harder to do that because of basic supply and demand. In 1999, when the first Mobile, Alabama Bowl was played there were 23 bowl games. Now there are 39, plus the National Championship Game. Eight of those games currently are without a title sponsor, including the game played in Birmingham.
Silverstein says the lack of a Fortune 500 company in Mobile makes getting a title sponsor more challenging.
“A lot of the games are sponsored by major companies in their city, like the Nova Home Loans Bowl in Tucson,” Silverstein said.
But Councilman Williams believes the city needs a better deal.
“The mayor needs to go to the team there at Dollar General – our local folk who run this game – and say ‘we need to talk,'” said Williams. “They need to go to work. They need to find some sponsors and bring us the intent of the original contract.”
The finances of the bowl game have come into question as the mayor and city council try to hash out a new budget by the end of the month. The administration has proposed cuts to the library system and a number of social agencies.