Because of Anthony Catanese, Boca Raton tonight will be the site of a college football bowl game.
Catanese is the former president of Florida Atlantic University whose departure in 2003 became controversial because he received a Corvette paid for using illegal donations funneled through the university’s foundation. Five years earlier, though, Catanese had declared his intention to start a football team at FAU.
Having come from the University of Florida, where he was dean of the architecture school, Catanese wanted to turn what the state had envisioned as an upper-division commuter college—people at the time called it “Sleepy Hollow U.”—into a more traditional campus like UF, meaning more students living on campus and football. Without Catanese, there likely would have been no team and no stadium on campus to host the first Boca Raton Bowl between Marshall and Northern Illinois.
Indeed, tropical-themed, 30,000-seat FAU Stadium has been the football program’s biggest contribution to the university and the area. It just hosted the women’s college soccer semi-finals and championship game. Once the interchange at Interstate 95 and Spanish River Boulevard opens and provides direct access, the stadium will be in an even better position to host all kinds of events.
Unfortunately for FAU, though, the stadium will be fuller tonight than it has been for any FAU game except maybe the stadium’s first in 2011. For that, Boca Raton can thank ESPN.
The network’s sponsorship of college football through broadcast rights is second only to its deal with the National Football League. After the conference championships in early-to-mid-December, there’s a programming gap until the major bowl games on and around New Year’s Day and the championship game. So a division of ESPN began packaging bowl games that the network owns and operates. It now owns 11, the Boca Raton Bowl being the newest along with the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.
Doug Mosley of ESPN is executive director of the Boca Raton Bowl. That roughly two-week period in December that I mentioned “is the highest-rated time on the ESPN family of networks,” Mosley told me last week. That family includes the ESPN channels and ABC, all owned by Disney. When ESPN looks to add a game, Mosley said, the company asks, “Is there an opportunity?”
In Boca, there was. FAU Athletic Director Pat Chun was interested early. So were the university, Palm Beach County and the city. The area had plenty of nice places where the teams could stay and plenty of diversions for their fans. And, of course, there was that appealing stadium and the potential to draw fans from chillier places to the pre-Christmas subtropics. In October 2013, the game became official.
For those in South Florida whose only model is the Orange Bowl, which began in 1935, the Boca Raton Bowl is very different. The Orange Bowl Committee is a vast, non-profit enterprise with a paid staff of 30 and 360 volunteers who give their time almost year-round. “Our model is much leaner,” Mosley said. He and another ESPN employee, Jena LaMendola, basically make up the executive staff. LaMendola graduated from FAU’s well-regarded sports management department.
Yet both games arose from the same motivation: promotion. Boca Raton liked the potential exposure so much that the city kicked in $340,000—$140,000 toward putting on the game this year and $200,000 to have “Boca Raton” in the name. Mayor Susan Haynie said the city would continue to get the billing even if the game added a corporate sponsor, which Mosley says it is seeking.
The game also spread its events around. Marshall’s team stayed at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, and the Thundering Herd practiced at St. Andrew’s School in northwest Boca. The Marshall welcome party was at CineBowl in the Delray Marketplace. The team’s outreach event was at West Boca Pediatric Center and the Marshall pep rally was at Mizner Park. There were youth clinics to show players how to avoid injuries. The Spirit of Giving Network, a charity partner, bought tickets so that low-income kids can attend the game.
Northern Illinois and especially Marshall have recruited players from South Florida. The game obviously will boost the schools’ profile here. FAU President John Kelly and Football Coach Charley Partridge also hope that the telecast will draw students from outside the area, especially those who could help the Owls fill the stadium for their own games.
But will the game be around nearly as long as the Orange Bowl? The six-year contract, Mosley said, is “what the government entities wanted” at the start. He added, though, “We want to be in this for a very long time.” The ESPN-owned bowl in Hawaii has been around since 1992. ESPN took over the Las Vegas bowl game in 2001, but it has been running since 1992.
If these six years go well, it could be the start of a beautiful friendship. FAU’s Chun got so pumped up at one point that he had nothing left but clichés, calling the game “a big-picture thing. . .a no-brainer and a slam-dunk type of deal.” However overwrought Chun got, there clearly was an opportunity. We will know soon how well Boca Raton took advantage of it.
I’ve passed along demographic vital signs about Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Palm Beach as think tanks dispense them. Here’s the latest, which won’t surprise anyone but still is revealing.
The Urban Institute and the Brookings Institute compared reporting of capital gains—primarily increases in the value of stocks, bonds and homes—in all the nation’s roughly 3,100 counties. With an average of almost $79,000, Palm Beach County ranks behind just 21 counties. Only Collier, the much smaller enclave on the west coast that is home to Gov. Scott, was higher—about $91,000.
But Palm Beach still trails far behind some less predictable places. In tiny LaSalle County in Texas, the average claim is $170,000. That’s about the number for Williams County, North Dakota. That state has less than of Palm Beach County’s population.
Why the rural wealth? The oil shale boom. Apparently, if you want to hang with the new money Boca Raton can’t compete with Cotulla, Tex.
You can email Randy Schultz at email@example.com
For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author
Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.
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