PHILADELPHIA, PA – John F. Kennedy Stadium (aka Philadelphia/Municipal Stadium) was a fixture in Philadelphia for more than 60 years. During its existence, the stadium hosted the Live Aid concert, boxing events and even championship celebrations. The stadium also holds the distinction of hosting the very first Liberty Bowl in 1959. For the next five years, the stadium hosted the postseason game, but Philadelphia has not hosted a bowl game since Mississippi State took home the Liberty Bowl trophy in 1963. The question remains, why has a city that is rich in football history not hosted a bowl game, collegiate or professional, for 50 years?
The ultimate event for any city to host is the Super Bowl. Even though it is still early, Larry Needle and the Philadelphia Sports Congress are paying close attention to this year’s game being held in New Jersey, just outside New York City. Needle is the Executive Director of the Sports Congress, a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We are certainly keeping a close eye on New York and what direction the league takes and if there may be a possibility of future cold weather sites,” he said. “If we think it is a possibility that Philadelphia could be a viable site, we would certainly talk to the Eagles and explore the possibility of pursuing a bid.”
New York will be the first cold weather city to host the game outdoors.
“It’s a little early in the game right now,” Needle said. “There are a lot of questions about what the weather is going to bring and how the game will come off. If the opportunity presents itself, we would work with the Eagles and the city and take a hard look at it.”
While the idea of a Super Bowl is very intriguing, a college bowl game could be a viable alternative. Within the past few years, more bowl games have been created, with some played in colder climate areas. New York City has converted Yankee Stadium into a football field for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Philadelphia has two stadiums that would be suitable for a bowl game. Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, has hosted an NFC Championship game and the Army-Navy game. Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies home stadium, could also be a good venue. The ballpark would give the event a unique atmosphere, similar to the when Citizens Bank Park hosted the 2012 Winter Classic, an event that successfully converted the baseball facility into an outdoor hockey rink.
As for possible participants, the Big Ten would be a logical conference for a tie-in to the game. With the addition of Rutgers and the University of Maryland, there will be three Big Ten schools within a three hour drive of Philadelphia.
“The reality is that we really believe that we already have bowl game on an annual basis in the Army-Navy game” Needle said. “When you look at the magnitude of what Army-Navy brings in terms of fans and television exposure, it relatively would be considered one of the bigger bowls in the country. I think that it is not a coincidence that there hasn’t been a concerted effort to bring in an additional bowl game. When you look at all the resources that go into producing an event like Army-Navy, I think that there is a feeling that not only do we have a bowl game, we have one of the biggest bowl games in the country.”
But a bowl game could also be beneficial for the city’s economy. If a post-season game were to have same impact the two service academies bring, it would inject a good amount of money into the city.
“In the last study that was done in 2006, the Army-Navy game had a $35 million economic impact.” Needle said. “It is a huge weekend for our hotels and restaurants and everybody in our hospitality community.”
Needle also added that almost 50,000 fans came to the city because of the game. These same fans also generated between 15,000 to 20,000 hotel room nights.
Out of the 10 biggest metropolitan areas in the country, Philadelphia is one of three not to host a bowl game (Boston and Chicago are the others). But the city may be open to changing that in the future.
“I say we’re a great sports town at every way you could look at it,” Needle said. “I think you can see that Philadelphia is a great market for really just about any sport that’s out there.”
Chris Franklin is a staff writer for Coach & Player Magazine and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisfranklincp.