Orange Bowl team in final drive to win big for Miami
By Rachel Tannenbaum
With the Orange Bowl Game on the horizon Jan. 4 and participants to be named in less than a week, the volunteer-led Orange Bowl Committee is shaping final preparations before its annual headline event.
The goal of the 78-year-old game at Sun Life Stadium is to generate South Florida tourism, said Michael Saks, chief operating officer of the Orange Bowl Committee since 2007.
"It is a traditional and local event. People are coming all over for the game," he said.
The Orange Bowl — since 2010 the Discover Orange Bowl — determines the champion between the Atlantic Coast Conference champion and the Bowl Champion Series at-large pick, unless they're to play in the national championship game.
The Orange Bowl is one of five top Bowl Championship Series games, including the national championship game. The others are the Sugar Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl and the Rose Bowl, with the championship game rotating its venue every year.
"We are proud to be only one of four annual [championship series] bowl games," Mr. Saks said. "It is a lot of fun, and we try and never take it for granted."
The committee wants to showcase the orange jacket its members wear, what the committee is and where it's located, Mr. Saks said.
"The destination, history and location of the game are very appealing because teams get to come to South Florida in December and January when the weather is so nice," he said.
The bowl's previous home, Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami, was razed in May 2008. Now the game is in Miami Gardens.
Although the Orange Bowl game shares Sun Life Stadium occupancy with the Miami Dolphins and University of Miami Hurricanes, Mr. Saks said, the committee works to distinguish itself by adorning the stadium with the Orange Bowl logo.
"We want people to feel that they are at an Orange Bowl game, not a Dolphins game," he said. "We work hard to give the game its own brand."
This year, the bowl will feature the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, either Virginia Tech or Clemson, against the Bowl Championship Series at-large pick, which could be West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati or Houston. That uncertainty leaves the committee exactly a month to decorate the field, hotels and venues with school logos and colors.
Since the game is annual, people think the committee only works from November to December, said Larry Wahl, vice president of communications and community outreach since 2007. But, he said, it actually takes a year of planning.
Once teams are picked in early December, the committee will host its annual kickoff party to introduce them Dec. 7 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel.
"This is when we get to showcase the Discover Orange Bowl and show that we are a top tier in football and we get to celebrate the teams," Mr. Wahl said.
Selected teams will fly to Miami Dec. 6 and 7 and the committee will go over a manual it's been assembling for months.
Mr. Wahl said his media staff prepares the schedule and works directly with teams on itineraries for them, VIPs and coaches, when they'll be picked up from the airport, where they'll stay, when and where they'll practice, where they'll prepare for the game, what they'll eat and when they'll hold press conferences.
Many local events before game time bear the Orange Bowl name, including the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship starting Dec. 4, the Orange Bowl Youth Championships presented by Sports Authority Dec. 10-11, and the 2011 MetroPCS Orange Bowl Basketball Classic Dec. 17.
Things shift into high gear around Dec. 29, when the two teams return to South Florida and prepare for the game, Mr. Wahl said.
Not only do the media from the two schools come here, but the committee sends media staff to each school. Mr. Wahl said the committee helps with the marketing of the schools and helps sell tickets.
"It's a dual process," Mr. Saks said. "The media comes here and we bring media there. We try and bring as much media attention as we can."
After the game, Mr. Wahl said, he usually leaves the stadium around 3 or 4 a.m., when all reporting is finished. He said the Orange Bowl staff will be out of the hotel and back in the office later that day to start planning the 2013 game.
"We reply on interns and assistantships who work a lot of hours," Mr. Wahl said. "We work as well as we can together."
Because the game is a community tradition, Mr. Saks said, the slow economy hasn't had an impact.
But the game's economic impact on the community can be huge. When the committee hosted both the Orange Bowl and the championship games in 2009, Mr. Saks said, it generated $200 million in economic impact.
"Every year is better than the previous and gains more attention," Mr. Saks said. "Being talked about is a good thing."
The Orange Bowl will host both games again next December and January. The committee will have six days between the two games to change the stadium design from the first football game for that of the second.
"The logistics are amazing. We have a staff of 340 members and 1,000 volunteers," Mr. Wahl said. "It wouldn't go as well without partners, support and volunteers as a staff."
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