Wild Iowa State fans celebrate a second half Cyclone touchdown during the football game between the Iowa State Cyclones and the Washington State Cougars on December 28, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Iowa State fans celebrate a second half touchdown Dec. 28 during the Alamo Bowl, which pitted the Cyclones against the Washington State Cougars. Credit: Ken Murray / Icon Sportswire via Getty

The biggest money-making event in college sports began this week with millions of fans around the nation filling out their NCAA men’s basketball tournament brackets and then tuning in to watch the thrills and spills of March Madness.

A year after the Final Four was played here in San Antonio at the Alamodome and received rave reviews, the event has moved on to Minneapolis with a promised return in 2025. Until then, the biggest college sporting event in town each year reverts back to the Valero Alamo Bowl, the college football postseason game contested here each year in late December or early January.

A recent analysis of the 2018 Alamo Bowl showed it’s doing well when it comes to generating revenue, too.

The 2018 Alamo Bowl was the most successful in the game’s 26-year history when it comes to economic impact on San Antonio, according to a company contracted to estimate spending related to the game.

The analysis conducted by Houston-based Economic Analytics Consulting estimated 41,578 out-of-state visitors came to San Antonio to see Washington State defeat Iowa State, creating a total economic impact of $52.9 million. Both figures are new records for the Alamo Bowl, which was first played in 1993.

The company based its analysis on surveys conducted at the game. The final report is based on 374 usable surveys covering 1,474 attendees. The data was then scaled up to estimate what all out-of-town visitors spent collectively.

Chris Johnson, principal at EAC, said people were asked where they traveled from, where they stayed while in town, how long they stayed, and where they spent money, among other questions.

The report covered visitors to the area rather than attendees from the area because it was assumed locals would have found other forms of entertainment on which to spend money. Johnson said a statistically valid sample generally requires only 200-400 to be presented in such surveys.

“I think what we put together is a reasonable and reliable estimate,” Johnson said. “If you’re looking for perfection in the sense that you’re able to talk to every person and have them have perfect recall on their spending and they’re willing to provide you answers, that would be wonderful. But the costs of that would be incredibly high, and, of course, people just won’t talk to you. It’s not a realistic option that is on the table.”

The announced attendance of 60,675 and the 6.1 million viewers who watched the game on ESPN ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively for non-College Football Championship bowl games last season.

The analysis found the average length of stay for the 2018 game was 3.4 days and produced $4.3 million in tax revenues for the City.

Valero Alamobowl President Derrick Fox
Valero Alamo Bowl President Derrick Fox

“When you take a step back and look at the bowl when it was first established in 1993, Christmas and New Year’s used to be one of the slowest tourism weeks of the year, if not the slowest,” said Derrick Fox, Alamo Bowl president and CEO, “and now we’ve turned it into one of the more robust weeks of the year.”

The Alamo Bowl has a contract with the Pac-12 and Big 12 Conferences to select teams from those conferences based on where they finish in the conference standings and national rankings. In 2018, the bowl featured two teams from cold-weather states with fan bases that generally are willing to travel to see their teams play.

When the Alamo Bowl invites a Texas team or a team from a nearby state such as Oklahoma, San Antonio might benefit from larger attendance but lose out when it comes to fans making longer stays in San Antonio, Fox said.

Fox said conducting an economic impact study helps provide a clear picture of how the bowl game is performing and benefiting the community. EAC also conducted a study of the 2017 game that showed an economic impact of $38.3 million, with 37,616 out-of-town visitors, for the game between Stanford and Texas Christian University.

In addition to the game’s economic impact, the Alamo Bowl has contributed more than $1 million in scholarship money to San Antonio-area high school and college students, Fox said.

The bowl game also invested $6 million in technology upgrades at the Alamodome in time for the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four.

Kyle Ringo is a freelance journalist based in San Antonio. He has covered business, college athletics, the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball for numerous publications and websites.