A college football bowl game is coming to the Grand Strand in 2020.
ESPN Events and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday at a press conference at Coastal Carolina University that CCU’s Brooks Stadium in Conway will be the site of a new bowl game beginning in two years.
ESPN Events will operate the bowl and it will be broadcast annually on an ESPN network, and the company is committed to a six-year agreement through 2025, according to Pete Derzis, ESPN senior vice president of college sports programming and ESPN Events.
“We are honored to be a part of history in establishing the first bowl game in the state of South Carolina,” said Matt Hogue, Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics at CCU.
The bowl will feature teams from three conferences – the Sun Belt, which includes the Chanticleers as a member, Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference (MAC). Coastal will be eligible to play in the game in the years it is eligible for a bowl.
“We like flexibility, and it helps us geographically to try to get the right teams on a given year,” Derzis said. “In a pure model each of the three conferences would have four participants over the six-year term. Could it potentially be modified where one has three and one has five? It’s a function of the fact we’re partners with the three conferences in a variety of games, so geography will play a role as we try to identify the matchups.”
The 10-team Sun Belt is already aligned with five bowls – R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., AutoNation Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla., and the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl in Tucson.
The Myrtle Beach game will begin as a pre-Christmas bowl in 2020 and future dates will be determined later. “We’ll have to sort of see where the windows are on television,” Derzis said. “We try to find a nice blend of national TV with a great activity during bowl week.”
Naming rights have not been determined, but “Myrtle Beach” will be included in the official name.
The bowl has yet to partner with any accommodations providers in Myrtle Beach, according to Karen Riordan, President and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re excited to start to be able to bring more partners in the community,” Riordan said. “Sports tourism, sports marketing and these kind of endeavors, this is a big, big part of our strategy going forward. We’re very, very bullish on sports and we know our community partners, our hoteliers and restaurateurs, are very excited about this kind of business. It’s just incredible because it brings families here, it brings all of the different segments we want from all over the country.”
Derzis said organizers plan to have events over the course of coming years to build interest in the game.
“Eventually it will become more than just bowl week. We’ll be running events during the course of the year to keep the Myrtle Beach Bowl game name in the news,” Derzis said. “Obviously golf is second nature to this community so we can envision some golf events during the course of the offseason. I think based on what we’ve done with the other games we own and operate around the country . . . we’re going to build the model out and engage it.”
The Myrtle Beach game will be the 15th bowl operated by ESPN Events, which currently operates 13 Football Bowl Subdivision bowls as well as the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl that is the de facto national championship for traditionally black colleges in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference.
ESPN is already involved in the Strand market in other events. It is staging the Myrtle Beach Invitational college basketball tournament in the area for at least the next three years. The inaugural event begins Thursday at CCU’s HTC Center. Organizers relocated the 11th annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off to the HTC Center last November after Hurricane Maria devastated the island territory.
In addition, Myrtle Beach’s DoubleTree by Hilton hotel will be the host site on Dec. 29-30 of the National College Cornhole Championship for college and college alumni teams that will be broadcast on ESPN’s family of networks.
“I think it’s a combination of things: facilities, workforce, your geography works for us, most of all it’s the people we’ve had the good fortune of meeting and their can-do attitude about staging events, working on events,” Derzis said of ESPN’s attraction to Myrtle Beach. “The team we worked with last year in a crunch situation with the hurricane was an amazing team effort. Everybody pulled together. I think it goes to the power of everybody rowing in the same direction to make something special happen, and this community has exhibited that.”
Tuesday’s press conference included Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson, Mid-American commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod.
Brooks Stadium was expanded to 15,000 seats prior to the 2017 season and is being expanded to more than 20,000 seats before the 2019 season.
“When I first came on this campus in 2014 . . . I knew that it wasn’t going to be long before there was a football bowl game in this stadium,” Benson said.