Preserving the Past…Ensuring the Future
“The Sugar Bowl is a true monument to success, having withstood the test of time and circumstance to become part of the very fabric of New Orleans and Louisiana, The economic impact in the form of tourism spending and tax dollars generated is such a key asset to the entire region; and in addition, each year it brings the national spotlight to our city and state to showcase their virtues to an audience of millions. And the Sugar Bowl is not just a football game; it also aids the community with its support of different programs held throughout the year.”
-Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, 2010-18
The Allstate Sugar Bowl ranks as one of the most uniquely successful amateur athletic achievements in the history of American sports. Born in the depths of the Great Depression and continuing through a World War and multiple devastating hurricanes, it has not only survived, but thrived. It is now recognized as one of the premier college sports events in the country despite being based in a relatively small city (No. 50 DMA, 2020) with limited corporate backing (New Orleans is home to just one Fortune 500 company). But the key to the group has been its 100-plus volunteer members who remain respectful of the past while being focused on the future, both for the organization and for New Orleans and Louisiana.
When the Mid-Winter Sports Association came together to establish the original Sugar Bowl in the early 1930s, the sole purpose of the organization was to sponsor and promote amateur sporting events which would foster revenue and spark economic growth in the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana. To this day, that remains the mission of the Sugar Bowl. And the numbers show the amazing success the organization has achieved.
Over the last decade, the Sugar Bowl has generated over $2.5 billion of economic impact for the city and the state. This includes a $242 million boost in tax revenue for the region since Hurricane Katrina – after which the Sugar Bowl was the first major event to fully commit to the city.
“Despite the devastation of Katrina, we had no doubt that we would do whatever it took to get back to New Orleans as soon as possible,” said Paul Hoolahan, the Chief Executive Officer of the Allstate Sugar Bowl from 1997 to 2019. “After ensuring the viability of the 2006 Sugar Bowl, everything we did was directed towards re-establishing ourselves in New Orleans and becoming a driving force in the revitalization of a city that had experienced something never before seen in this country.”
The Bowl found itself facing another major challenge, along with the rest of the world, in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions in its operations.
As difficult as this year has been, Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Jeff Hundley said facing the battles of the past have allowed the organization and its staff to work through the many challenges posed by the unrelenting pandemic. Heretofore, Katrina was the benchmark for the organization when it came to overcoming adversity. Yet despite having to move the game to Atlanta and navigate through the ruins, both economic and physical in the New Orleans area, the Sugar Bowl emerged as strong as it ever was.
“In speaking to our membership a couple of months ago, I drew back on times over the history where we’ve had to adapt and overcome,” Hundley said. “An organization this old doesn’t stay as relevant as it has for decades without being able to adapt to change and circumstances. That’s a credit to the committee members and leadership here. They are willing and able to do so.
“There are bowl games around the country that have elected not to play. Fortunately, we’re in the position of being able to push forward until the finish line or until the virus says we can’t.”
The Bowl did push through, doubling as a College Football Playoff Semifinal for the third time in its history as Ohio State defeated Clemson in a high-scoring 49-28 affair.
The Sugar Bowl Committee has continued to serve as a key component of the city’s vitality in the “big-event” market by spear-heading New Orleans’ successful bid to host the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship – as well as the overall hosting effort of the highly-successful event, which broke CFP records for attendance at nearly the full slate of weekend events that make up the national championship experience. The Sugar Bowl also assisted with the city’s bid for the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four and provided extensive financial security for the event. The Bowl served on the Local Organizing Committee for that event, and it did the same for the 2013 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four.
The Sugar Bowl’s presence as an essential cog in the event machine of New Orleans is nothing new.
From the first Sugar Bowl Classic on January 1, 1935, the organization experienced tremendous success, becoming the driving force behind the continued expansion of Tulane Stadium, then the site of the game. The stadium, which would come to be referred to as Sugar Bowl Stadium, grew from a quaint 24,000-seat venue into an 80,000-seat showpiece.
A Times-Picayune article stated the value of the Sugar Bowl’s presence in the city, “According to Dave Dixon, whose efforts in the 1960s helped lead to New Orleans landing an NFL franchise and the construction of the Superdome, without the Sugar Bowl the city likely would never have become the major sports event site it is today.”
While big events such as the Sugar Bowl Classic, college football national championships and Final Fours are the most visible Sugar Bowl contributions, they are by no means its only way of leaving its mark.
In the summer of 2012, the group’s executive committee approved a $2 million commitment to the revitalization of Joe Brown Park in New Orleans East, a major community youth facility that has provided a significant boost to the quality of life for the families in the area.
An $800,000 commitment to New Orleans City Park gave a big boost to the renovation of Tad Gormley Stadium, a primary location for scores of high school football games each year.
The Sugar Bowl is also a sponsor of events in a wide-range of sports including baseball, basketball, golf, lacrosse, sailing, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field and volleyball and it provides over $100,000 annually in scholarships to local student-athletes. It also sponsors the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame and the Manning Award, which honors the top collegiate quarterback in the nation each year.
Throughout its history, the Sugar Bowl has paid nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to the schools and conferences which participated in the annual football classic, as well as tens of thousands of dollars to the SEC Postgraduate Scholarship Program. The Bowl has also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to universities in need, including Virginia Tech after its tragic campus shootings in 2007 and the University of Alabama after the devastating tornadoes in the spring of 2011.
Whether it’s hosting the biggest college football event in the nation in January, sponsoring a regional tennis championship in April or coordinating a city-wide swimming championship in October, the Allstate Sugar Bowl has held fast to its original mission and remains dedicated to “Preserving the Past and Ensuring the Future.”