In the coming months, Music City Bowl officials will be negotiating new deals with the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference, a process that will determine whether the bowl’s payouts must increase.
Having to cut larger checks could put additional financial pressure on the bowl, which lost money last year and would have lost even more had the new Music City Event Marketing Fund not put up $750,000 before the New Year’s Eve game.
Of course, the bowl is getting a bailout in 2010 with a deal announced in March for Franklin American Mortgage to take over as title sponsor from Gaylord Hotels. The talk is that it is a seven-figure annual deal over several years.
But landing that title sponsor may not be enough to settle chatters surrounding the bowl’s financial performance. Nor will it settle the belief that bowl officials have been less than transparent with the event’s finances, particularly after they broke away from the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce several years ago with the Nashville Sports Council.
The Sports Council and the bowl share staff with Scott Ramsey acting as executive director of both, pulling in a salary of more than $200,000 a year. According to the bowl’s tax returns after the 2007 bowl game, Ramsey received $108,000 in salary from the bowl alone.
Ramsey’s salary has rubbed some people the wrong way given that the Sports Council has laid off people staffers and the bowl continues to have financial issues even after a record-setting 2007 event, when the University of Kentucky played Florida State University.
For years now, some business leaders have questioned in back channels the Sports Council’s track record and claims of success in landing sporting events. To its credit, the organization did go out and land the NCAA Women’s Final Four, albeit with the promise of funding it had yet to receive and a convention center that has yet to start being built.
The city cut in half its contribution to the group two years ago to $100,000. That’s likely to stay the same this year. And when the Event Marketing Fund approved the $750,000, committee members effectively pushed it into a partnership with the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau on strategic planning and corporate sponsorship matters.
Committee members in effect made a power move to lift the veil on the bowl’s business since it was accepting tax dollars. That fund is financed with an extra portion on top of the hotel motel tax. The problem, however, is the move hasn’t paid off yet.
Officials involved say the strategic planning efforts have basically been nonexistent. The conversations have centered more on how to expand the number of events around the game. And the bowl is as vague as ever about its business.
If no plan materializes, bowl officials probably shouldn’t be surprised when committee member Colin Reed, who runs Gaylord Entertainment and who sought the planning, gets red-faced and delivers blistering criticism, perhaps even calling for withholding the funds.
Propping up the bowl was one of the main drivers for creating the fund in the first place.
Earlier this year, Ramsey had gone back to the event marketing fund committee to get $150,000 to cover last year’s loss. But the committee denied the request along with one from the organizers of the Country Music Marathon, who were seeking some cash to offset lower sponsorship dollars with the dismal economy.
There was some thought among bowl officials that a new title sponsor would free them from having to do serious strategic planning. That isn’t likely.
So if payouts do go up, they could put Ramsey in a tight spot considering that he’d said he didn’t think they would go up because of the economy. He will be hit with more questions on how the bowl plans to keep out of the red and asking for more tax money.