With the crowds that now fill the River Walk hotels and restaurants during the Valero Alamo Bowl week, it’s hard to believe that Christmas to New Year’s used to be San Antonio’s slowest week for tourism.
Of course, this transformation, making Bowl Week one of the most economically vibrant times of the year, didn’t happen overnight. The first Alamo Bowl, in 1993, was ranked 18th of the 18 postseason games in terms of the combined $1.4 million team payout.
The game was supposed to feature the Southwest Conference against the Pac-12 Conference.
Unfortunately, the SWC didn’t have a bowl-eligible team available with the third selection. Instead, Alamo Bowl officials scoured the country looking for an at-large selection to play against California and opted for legendary coach Hayden Fry and his 6-5 Iowa team.
Fans from both schools were unsure of what to expect from a first-time bowl, but San Antonio delivered such an unforgettable experience that they left as some of the city’s top ambassadors.
With fans and the teams both staying in downtown hotels, attendees could watch a one-of-a-kind pep rally on the River Walk and then walk with their team to the Alamodome on game day.
These “only in San Antonio” moments fueled the Alamo Bowl’s growth. The first sellout occurred in the 1995 Builders Square Alamo Bowl, when No. 19 Texas A&M outlasted No. 14 Michigan 22-20.
As the track record of exciting games, capacity crowds and top ESPN ratings increased, so did the number of star players.
Nebraska’s Eric Crouch and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota each won the Heisman the year after they quarterbacked their teams to Alamo Bowl wins. Crouch led the No. 8-ranked Huskers to the largest blowout in bowl history with a 66-17 win over No. 19 Northwestern in 2000. Mariota ran for a quarterback bowl record of 133 yards as the No. 8 Ducks upended Texas 30-7 in 2013.
Reigning Heisman winner Robert Griffin III led No. 12 Baylor to a 67-56 win over Washington in the 2011 Valero Alamo Bowl. The 123 combined points made it the highest-scoring regulation bowl game in NCAA history.
In 2014, widespread community support and corporate underwriting highlighted by Valero’s title sponsorship allowed the Valero Alamo Bowl to greatly improve its team selection rights.
The first three games as the No. 1 bowl game outside the College Football Playoff (CFP) delivered Top-15 matchups highlighted by No. 11 TCU’s record 31-point comeback to outlast No. 15 Oregon in three overtimes Jan. 2, 2016.
The 25th Alamo Bowl, set for 8 p.m. Dec. 28, will match a pair of Top 15 teams: No. 13 Stanford vs. 15th-ranked TCU.
This year, the Valero Alamo Bowl will pay $8.25 million to the participating conferences and universities to deliver what is expected to be the eighth capacity crowd in the past 12 years. Higher-ranked teams translate into larger tourism gains, as evidenced by last year’s $50.1 million total economic effect for San Antonio, according to surveys conducted by SportsEconomics.
The Valero Alamo Bowl solidified its position as the No. 1 non-CFP game last summer when agreements with the Big 12, Pac-12 and ESPN were extended through 2025. With the security of those long-term deals matched only by the Orange, Sugar and Rose Bowls, the Valero Alamo Bowl has been able to increase community outreach.
The scholarship program is now No. 1 among all 40 bowl games, as 140 students representing every participating area high school and university are sharing more than $1 million in awards this year.
The success of the Valero Alamo Bowl, University of Texas at San Antonio football and the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four, as well as future events that San Antonio will bid on (such as last year’s Army vs. Notre Dame Game played here), depends on a competitive Alamodome. As a result, the Valero Alamo Bowl committed $6 million for new HD video walls and an upgraded sound and Wi-Fi system to improve the experience for all Alamodome attendees.
This year’s game may not feature an unforgettable game-winning touchdown pass such as the one Purdue’s Drew Brees threw to beat No. 4 Kansas State, a record-breaking comeback win like TCU’s or the chance to salute a Hall of Fame coach like Mack Brown in his final game. But it might!
Either way, I know I’m getting the same chills of excitement preparing for the 25th annual Valero Alamo Bowl as I did when I walked out of the tunnel at the Cotton Bowl for the Texas-Oklahoma game as a member of the Longhorns football team.
What an honor it is for me to be a part of an organization that has so positively affected San Antonio for 25 years. Of course, the success of the Valero Alamo Bowl is a direct reflection of the steadfast leadership and devotion of President & CEO Derrick Fox, who has been here since day one. He has developed a team of dedicated individuals who work tirelessly throughout the year planning and preparing for game day. On behalf of our board of directors, thank you to everyone who has helped make the Valero Alamo Bowl one of San Antonio’s most memorable holiday traditions.