Big Ten Bowl Trip: Insight Bowl
Nov. 20, 2007
by Jeff Smith
Whether you come alone, as a couple, with a group of friends or with your family, the city of Tempe, Ariz., and representatives of the Insight Bowl have some advice.
Come for the town. Enjoy the game. Stay for the celebration. Oh, and come back soon!
It is what fans have come to expect with the Insight Bowl, which is organized and run by the Fiesta Bowl. The New Year's Eve bowl game, which will kickoff at 5:30 EDT on the NFL Network this season, has benefited a great deal from its bowl partnership with the Big Ten and Big 12 Conference. The Big Ten established its partnership with the Insight Bowl in 2006, allowing the conference's nationally-touted alumni base of nearly four million to have a holiday destination in the desert southwest.
At the time when the Tempe was in talks talking with the Big Ten, the bowl committee began to survey several of its Big Ten alumni associations in the greater Phoenix area and quickly learned that a Big Ten presence in the desert would prove very beneficial to the region.
"If you came here to Tempe, Phoenix or Scottsdale, I think you would find that it's very much a Midwestern city stuck out here near the Pacific Rim," quipped Fiesta Bowl President and CEO John Junker. "We have that Midwestern work ethic and sense of family out here, but we also have a great deal of Mexican restaurants."
They also have one of the nation's top New Year's Eve celebrations that takes place immediately following the Insight Bowl. The festival is called the Insight Fiesta Bowl Block Party - an event that USA Today ranks as one of the nation's top 10 New Year's Eve celebrations and annually attracts more than 100,000 people to the gates of Sun Devil Stadium located in Tempe's Beach Park and Mill Avenue District. More than 40 local bands will take to the stage this year in a New Year's Eve party that will be headlined by the award-winning group Barenaked Ladies.
Unique dining and great shopping line the streets of downtown Tempe, which is located just 10 minutes - yes, 10 minutes - from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Several hotels are within walking distance of the stadium and the often-visited Tempe Beach Park and Tempe Town Lake.
"A sunny, blue-sky day is very appealing to people coming from a colder climate," said Stephanie Nowack, President and CEO of the Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau.
And as soon as the bowl selections are made, Nowack and her staff are focused on bringing that warm climate to the Big Ten region. Each year, representatives from the Fiesta Bowl, Insight Enterprises and the City of Tempe travel to the campus of the selected Big Ten school to speak to the alumni and media and make them feel welcomed before they even arrive.
It's one of the many things that the Fiesta Bowl does to help give the Insight Bowl a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) feel. Junker is quick to point out that while the Insight Bowl gets "BCS preparation in every way shape of form," it is in deed a game that has an identity of its own.
"In an urban area of four million, there aren't enough BCS tickets (for our region) any way, so it's much better for us to build up our second game."
In 2006, the Phoenix metro area hosted the Insight Bowl in Tempe and the Fiesta Bowl and BCS National Championship Bowl in Glendale. When Junker surveyed the Big Ten and Big 12 participants from the Insight Bowl as to whether or not they felt slighted by coverage from the two bigger games, he said the common response from Minnesota and Texas Tech was that they "couldn't tell anything else was going on in the town."
"That was probably the nicest compliment we received," Junker said. "That's all we need to know to motivate us. Those guys with the helmets are our most special guests."
During the 2006-07 Fiesta Bowl Festival of College Football, the overall economic impact for the area surpassed $400 million, with the Insight Bowl generating $62.2 million. A detailed study of the impact noted that fans in town for the Insight Bowl spent $272.50 per day. The report also revealed that of the 48,391 people that attended the 2006 Insight Bowl, 57 percent were visitors and stay an average of four nights.
Those figures were no surprise to Nowack, who calls Tempe a "fun and engaging town."
Noting the significant amount of tourism in the area, Junker noted that the despite Phoenix and its surrounding area being the fourth or fifth largest in the nation, "people here in Phoenix aren't really from Phoenix."
Visitors to downtown Tempe will find a variety of different restaurants in the Mill Avenue District, allowing them to park their cars and be within a five minute walk of some of the Valley's best Chinese, Mediterranean, Mexican, Southwestern and Italian eateries, many of which offer outdoor seating with a view of the desert mountains.
"If you are looking for one of the tried and true, historic places in Tempe, try Monti's La Casa Vieja," Nowack said. "Their specialties are steaks and filets, and it's right across the street from Tempe Beach Park."
Nowack says if steak is not the option you are looking for, a combination of Italian, wine and jazz can be found at Caffe Boa. Care to be surrounded by authentic Irish décor shipped from the across the pond? The Rúla Búla is for you. For those looking for a pre-New Year's celebration, enjoy the nightlife and dueling pianos at The Big Bang.
No worries though. Tempe is not only just a town of food and beverage. In fact, the city offers many recreational activities that can be enjoyed by football fans of all ages.
To enjoy the best of the outdoors for free, take an afternoon or sunset walk along Tempe Beach Park or through the campus of Arizona State University. If you are in the mood for culture, visit the Tempe Center for the Arts or the ASU Art Museum. At night, take the kids to a movie or let them get their sports fill at Dave & Busters, all of which is within five minutes from downtown.
Should Big Ten fans want to make an extended vacation out of the bowl game, Nowack recommends hopping in a car for a road trip. Located just outside Tempe is the Phoenix Zoo and the nearby botanical gardens in Papago Park, which features more than 20,000 desert plants from around world. A 90-mile car ride will take you to the beautiful "Red Rock Country" of Sedona, while revelers of the Grand Canyon will most likely need to plan an overnight trip there or in Flagstaff after the four-hour trip.
The overall package that the city of Tempe and the Insight bowl offers is a "compelling" one according to Junker. The desert southwest location is very accessible by plane and the market of five-star resorts to the nice, clean and safe budget properties is a competitive one. Quite simply, once you go, it's tough not to come back.
"In most surveys done by our visitor bureaus," said Junker, "for the people that have visited, the rate of return is among the highest in the nation."
Perhaps the most inviting aspect of the greater Phoenix region is the fact that you are not viewed as a consumer, but as a guest and a friend.
And when fans of the Big Ten and Big 12 pile into the scenic Sun Devil Stadium, a picturesque venue located between two small mountains - the Tempe Buttes - to enjoy the annual Insight Bowl, Junker can't wait for his friends to stay for the celebration.
"We'll kick off around 3:30 local time and then take 50 to 60,000 of our closest friends to the block party," he said.
The invitation is proof that as a result of planning one of the nation's most unique bowl games, the city of Tempe only once drops the ball.
At the stroke of midnight.
Welcome to Tempe, friend. Happy New Year and come back soon!