Nov. 13, 2007
by Jeff Smith
Detroit, the birthplace of the American automobile. The city that introduced the world to the smooth grooves of Motown and the pulsating beats of Techno. It's known to many as the Motor City, but fans of the Red Wings liken it to "Hockeytown". Residents of the only U.S. city that is north of Canada simply refer to it as the "D". Just recently, the Sporting News got into the namecalling by labeling it North America's Best Sports City. In the Big Ten's eyes, Detroit represents something special to the conference's football fans. Detroit means the birth of the Big Ten bowl season.
Since 2002, the Big Ten has partnered with the Mid-American Conference and the Motor City Bowl to provide its fans a bowl with regional access and national exposure. The conference annually sends one of its squads to battle against a team from the MAC, given each team is bowl eligible. While the Motor City Bowl held its first contest in 1997, only one Big Ten squad competed in the game in the event's first 10 years. Northwestern dropped a heartbreaker to Bowling Green, 28-24, in the 2003 outing.
This year's Motor City Bowl will be held in Detroit on December 26 at Ford Field. The game will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET and be televised on ESPN.
Ford Field, site of Super Bowl XL, is one of the newest and most unique venues in the country. The $500 million complex made up of 1.85 million square feet was opened in 2002. The integrity of the building was protected as the site was once the historical old Hudson's warehouse built in the 1920s. The home of the Detroit Lions, Ford Field has been lauded by critics nationwide for having the best sight lines of any football stadium in the country. The 65,000-seat stadium was designed to exclude the traditional club and suite levels, thereby lowering the upper level. The unique architecture offers fans in any seat and great view of the action as well as a sight of the Detroit skyline from a glass wall inside.
Over the past decade, Detroit has undergone an amazing facelift downtown. Dave Beachnau, the Sports Commission Director for the Metro Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau, points to hosting the recent Super Bowl as a reason for change.
"We've gone through a total rebirth of our downtown area over the past few years and the 2006 Super Bowl has been a reason for that," he said. "The area around Ford Field has been enhanced quite a bit over the last several years."
Ken Hoffman, the Motor City Bowl's Executive Director agrees.
"If you haven't been to Detroit in the last 10-15 years, you wouldn't recognize it," he said. "It's kind of `renaissanced' itself."
Hoffman is referring to Detroit's famed Renaissance Center, a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers located on the city's International Riverfront. The combination of buildings is owned by the General Motors Corporation, which also houses its world headquarters. At the core of the complex stands the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center - the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. The 73-story hotel also stakes claim to the largest rooftop restaurant called Coach Insignia. The restaurant, which offers a first-class menu with $30-40 entrees, pays tribute throughout the building to the history of the automobile, dating back to 1900.
The bowl game's first contest in 1997 was officially known as the Ford Motor City Bowl, however since then, the event has focused on expanding the sponsorship to all three of the "Big Three" - Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. By having all three corporations affiliated with the bowl game, Hoffman feels the sponsorship is a way to reward the thousands of employees in the automobile industry.
"It's an opportunity to for (the Big Three) to do something for their employees," Hoffman said. "They are giving back to the community in which they all live and work. Ford helped us that first year to get the others involved and since then we have been able to offer a special package to the employees and union workers."
Hoffman also points out that with the addition of Ford Field and the fact the location of the game is in the backyard of both the Big Ten and MAC conferences, interest surrounding the Motor City Bowl has been at an all-time high.
Motor City Bowlwww.motorcitybowl.com
Date: Dec. 26, 2007
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
Site: Detroit, Mich.
Facility: Ford Field
Pairings: Big Ten vs. MAC
Sponsors: Chrysler, Ford, General Motors
Payout: $750,000 per conference (minimum)
Name History: Motor City Bowl, 1997-present
First Game: Dec. 26, 1997 (Mississippi 34, Marshall 31)
Big Ten Record: 0-1
First Big Ten Appearance: Dec. 26, 2003 (Bowling Green 28, Northwestern 24)
Start of Big Ten Tie-in Agreement: 2002 season
Last Big Ten Game: Dec. 26, 2003 (Bowling Green 28, Northwestern 24)
Last Season: Central Michigan 31, Middle Tennessee 14
"We moved the game to Ford Field five years ago and now our crowds are over 50,000," said Hoffman, who oversaw last year's game that boasted a bowl-record 54,113 fans. "Prior to the move we were only averaging in the 40s."
The increase in attendance and interest around the game has provided a spark to the rejuvenated downtown area. With the game held one or two days after Christmas, many businesses enjoy seeing the influx of fans during a relatively slow time.
Over the last 10 years, the Motor City Bowl has generated an average annual economic impact of $14 million-plus into the region. But as Beachnau points out, the proximity of the participating teams often determine the economic impact the city will experience.
"Last year we set an attendance record, but we had Central Michigan," Beachanu said. "When you get a Connecticut (2004 MCB participant) or Louisville (1998), they will come in the night before. But anytime you can get 40-50,000 people in town during a slow time in our area is beneficial."
Obviously the closer the participating team is to Detroit, the more inclined its fans are to travel the day of the game or stay the night before. According to Hoffman, the accessibility to Detroit is one of the "foundational pillars from which this game was built."
"In today's economy, it's tough to get away and stay a long time," he said. "Here we have regional teams with national accessibility and every one can get here on a tank of gas."
And by savings a few bucks on accommodations, football fans that flock to Detroit can spend that cash on entertainment.
Among the many attractions, Detroit has the second largest theater district in the country. Music lovers can head to the historic Fox Theatre for a tour of the 75-year-old venue that has is known for its stunning architecture just as much as it is for its past performers, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin. Still longing for a little Motown? Travel to the Motown Historical Museum, also known as Berry Gordy's "Hitsville USA" on West Grand Boulevard. Head to Henry Ford Museum for a look back at the history of the automobile. If you are in the mood for sports and food, try Hockeytown, Cheli's Chili Bar, the historic Ellwood Grill, or a famous coney dog on a nearby street corner. For culture, Greektown is a sure hit.
As for the bowl game itself, Hoffman points to the affordable ticket prices and the opportunity to watch two great Midwest football conferences battle inside the nation's top facility as the event's top attractions. He feels that in the "bowl world," the Motor City Bowl has earned its stripes now that the event is in its second decade. In fact, Hoffman has hopes of hosting even a bigger bowl game in the future.
"Let's put it this way," he said, "if Detroit can host the Super Bowl, I think we can certainly host a national championship in college football."
Perhaps Detroit may be fortunate enough in the future to close the final chapter on the college football campaign, but for now, it provides Big Ten fans with the introduction to football's second season.
Welcome to Detroit. It's time to go bowling.