After five years in the nation's capital, the Military Bowl is staking out a future in Annapolis, and city leaders are hoping to cash in on the cachet of hosting a nationally televised college football bowl game.
With events including a flyover by a B-25 bomber and the landing of a parachute team at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, bowl organizers hope Friday's game between the University of Maryland and Marshall University (W.Va.) taps the military pride of Annapolis — home of the Naval Academy and plenty of Navy retirees. Previously, the bowl was held at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington.
But if organizers see red, white and blue, city officials, restaurants and hotels are seeing green, anticipating an economic boost of $1 million to $2 million in a week that's traditionally a post-holiday bust.
Three of the city's five major hotels are already sold out and hotels around Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport could get a bump, too, said Connie Del Signore, president and CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau. Though official host hotels — where the teams are staying — are in Washington, bowl officials, broadcast crews from ESPN and fans are choosing to stay in Annapolis, she said.
"The town of Annapolis, after the game, is going to be rocking," said bowl director Steve Beck. "You can imagine all those people looking for something to do after the game. Annapolis, Main Street, the historic nature of it all is the perfect setting."
City officials couldn't agree more, and hope festivities, including a Main Street parade with Medal of Honor winners, marching bands and the Budweiser Clydesdales will draw visitors who will be enchanted by the town.
"They'll come, they'll see what a beautiful place Annapolis is and they'll come back," said Mayor Mike Pantelides.
The bowl game festivities will also bring their share of workday headaches, including road closings.
"We welcome the visitors, but it messes up the traffic terribly, especially for the people who live and work here," said Jenny Alderman, a salesperson for York Flowers on State Circle. "It really just causes us a headache. We don't have parking enough without the visitors."
"I anticipate traffic will be difficult through the entire downtown area during" the parade, said Cpl. Amy Miguez of the Annapolis Police Department. She said police would have extra officers on hand and the city would extend shuttle bus service to "help alleviate [traffic] at least for people who want to get in and see some of the parade and things like that."
The bowl's effect pales in comparison to Annapolis' fall boat shows — which span two weekends and bring about $50 million to the city. But the Military Bowl will be on the scale of the Naval Academy's commissioning week in May, which generates about $2 million in economic impact.
The Military Bowl has a seven-year contract with the Naval Academy Athletic Association to hold the game in Annapolis, but there wasn't a lot of time for Annapolis to prepare for this first year. The agreement to move the game from RFK to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was announced in late May.
Some businesses weren't sure what to make of the bowl game at first, said Frank DiVenti, director of promotions for the visitors bureau. Annapolis has hosted many special events, but never a college football bowl game.
"We gathered the troops, as they say, and said, 'This is coming,'" DiVenti recalled.
The bureau encouraged hotels, restaurants and stores to offer Military Bowl promotions and enlisted businesses to help donate game tickets to military families. By now, everyone's on board, DiVenti said.
The bowl comes at a fortunate time for local businesses, which normally have a lull after Christmas and before New Year's and the start of the General Assembly session on Jan. 8.
In the runup to Christmas, downtown has been hopping with shoppers and diners. "Right after Christmas, that drops to nothing," Del Signore said. "For hotels in particular to have any kind of business on the 27th or 28th of December is really great."
"Hopefully, it will be just like a good Navy game," said Megan Moore, proprietor of Easy Street Gallery about a block off State Circle. "We're always busy on Navy games. Hopefully it's a different crowd, too, because for a lot of the Navy games you get the same people, and then the opposing team is where we get business, because people are coming into town. It's good for the town."
Last year's Military Bowl, with San Jose State beating Bowling Green, 29-20, drew 17,835 fans to RFK. But Beck is expecting a full stadium in Annapolis this year. The stadium officially holds 34,000, but can accommodate more. VIP suites and Touchdown Club packages were sold out the day after the Maryland-Marshall matchup was announced.
Beck didn't have an exact figure for ticket sales as of Monday, though he said it was in the "high 20" thousands, and said organizers were hoping weather would be nice enough to open up additional spectator seating on the grassy areas of the stadium. He said having two nearby teams — Maryland close by and Marshall within driving distance — points to a strong turnout. In 2010, when Maryland appeared in the bowl and defeated East Carolina, 51-20, attendance topped 38,000.