High School Football

O-D All-American Bowl looks to grow at Myrtle Beach

Perhaps nobody understands the realities of holding a successful sporting event on the Grand Strand better than Beach Ball Classic director John Rhodes.

Before he was the mayor of Myrtle Beach, Rhodes was instrumental in the development of one of the nation's premier prep basketball tournaments. Over the years he's learned the keys to holding an event that thrives in what many would describe as a fickle sporting market.

"You just have to try and survive and create a foundation in this market today," Rhodes said. "... We've been here for 29 years and established a solid foundation. We've established that what we're bringing in is first-class entertainment. I personally would hate to be putting together an event in this area."

The BBC has become a staple in the sports entertainment industry in the week following Christmas. The Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, now in its fourth year overall and second on the Strand, has yet to prove its value to the local masses, a factor that could loom large in the game's long-term viability.

Rhodes believes that Offense-Defense must survive for several years - games that may not be well-attended as locals learn about the company, its game and its players - and then the game has the potential to take off. Survival could also help raise the game's stock in an increasingly crowded national all-star game market.

After the game attracted only about 900 fans at Coastal Carolina's Brooks Stadium last January, it was moved this season to Doug Shaw Stadium, where it will be closer to tourism resources that Myrtle Beach offers. Offense-Defense has also added a number of youth events in conjunction with the featured bowl to hopefully put more fans in the stands and increase the event's economic footprint.

"The scope has increased this year," Offense-Defense president Rick Whittier said. "I think that's added a lot to this event. Will local people care about it? I don't know. I'll tell you this much. The amount of support we've gotten from local businesses has blown me away. It's been heartwarming and wonderful. They at least appreciate us."

Whittier reiterated a point this week that he made following last year's bowl game: attendance isn't the top priority. With the game airing nationally on Fox College Sports, Offense-Defense can likely stand to lose a little money at the gate if the game provides plenty of free advertisement for the company's main mission: holding summer football camps.

The company also promised to promote the game better this year. Whittier hired former Oakland Raiders executive Artie Gigantino to script and implement a plan. Instead of just flooding the area with advertisements, he and his staff decided to take a grass-roots approach.

"I tried to speak to as many Optimist Clubs and Rotaries as I could on the Grand Strand," Gigantino said. "We had to get out into the business community. We just wanted people to know who we are. We reached out to people like that and as many media people as we could. In the past I don't think there was enough aggression about those things."

Gigantino and Co. were also more visible in the community. Instead of calling or writing sponsors, they knocked on doors weekly, an approach that helped them land a number of new sponsors. The bulk of the meals and entertainment for the players and coaches were donated by local businesses.

"That stuff is out there if you ask," Gigantino said. "It's like the pretty girl. We all stand around at the dance and say, 'I can't ask her to dance.' She's not going to dance with you unless you ask her. All she can do is say, 'Yes, no or maybe.' "

Whittier believes many communities would be thrilled to host the All-American Bowl, but his company is based here and this is where he wants to have it on a yearly basis. Scout.com recruiting analyst Miller Safrit, who is quite familiar with the all-star game market, said the key to making the game work is marketing. He feels like Myrtle Beach and Offense-Defense have the potential for a great marriage.

"This really feels like a hometown event," he said.

Gigantino just wants to keep it going on a yearly basis. Personally he likes the challenge.

"It's challenging because you're not just juggling one thing," he said. "But I think the long-range plan looks great."

To view Hoke's CCU sports blog, "The Roost," go to TheSunNews.com.

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