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Famous Idaho Potato Bowl stirs up business for Treasure Valley

University of Idaho football players got to have fun on the Bogus Basin tubing hill in the days before the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl game. Photo courtesy of Lynne Wieland, Bogus Basin.

University of Idaho football players had fun on the Bogus Basin tubing hill Dec. 20. They were in the Treasure Valley for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl game. Photo courtesy of Lynne Wieland, Bogus Basin.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl week brought University of Idaho and Colorado State University football players and alumni into businesses around the Treasure Valley.

The players expected to prepare for the Dec. 22 game with competitive bowling at Pinz Bowling Center and tubing at Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. Both alumni groups planned back-to-back rallies at Big Al’s with an outdoor battle of bands from both universities at The Village at Meridian between the rallies.

The three largest hotels in Boise filled up with football players, band members and assorted others associated with the bowl, which was to be played at Albertsons Stadium.

The Grove hotel hosted the CSU football team, and Courtyard by Marriott on Broadway hosted the Idaho band, raising occupancy that typically hovers around 25 percent in the week or two before Christmas.

“It’s typically a very slow time because corporate travel stops,” said Andrea Cox, general manager at Courtyard by Marriott. “We love the Idaho Potato Bowl because we will be sold out.”

The Colorado State football team booked 200 of The Grove’s 250 rooms for five days, said John Cunningham, CEO of Block 22 LLC, which owns The Grove, Courtyard by Marriott and Hotel 43.

“This is the second largest group we had this year,” Cunningham said.

SpringHill Suites Boise, hosting the Colorado State band, has a number of long-term guests, so its vacancy rate without the bowl game would be 40 to 50 percent. The band was expected to fill 130 of the 230 rooms for two nights and 65 rooms for a third night, General Manager Lisa Vincent said.

SpringHill expected to host a game contingent for only the second time after trying to land a team or band for a number of years.

“We’ll be pretty close to sold out,” Vincent said a week before the game. “We feel very fortunate to be selected by the (bowl game organizers).”

The Riverside Hotel, the Treasure Valley’s largest with 300 rooms, set aside 100 rooms for five nights for the Idaho football team and staff and another 100 room nights were expected from traveling Idaho alumni, General Manager Kathy Pidgeon said.

“We would be at 30 percent or so (without the football game),” Pidgeon said. “The team is great for our catering. They eat a lot. Our kitchen is in tune with how to cook for football players (because the Riverside often hosts visiting football teams).”

The Village at Meridian was expected to be the epicenter Dec. 21 for alumni groups and the battle of the bands from both universities.

As many as 400 Colorado State alumni were expected to rally in the sports bar at Big Al’s at The Village from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., and Idaho alumni planned to stage their rally with similar numbers in the same space from 8 to 10 p.m.

“This is definitely a huge thing for us,” said Jesse Nelson, outside sales manager at Big Al’s. “For that time frame, we probably double the revenue we might have on a (typical day).”

In the hour between the rallies, the Idaho and Colorado State marching bands planned to parade through The Village and musically battle in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Mash Bash just outside Big Al’s.

“It’s like a flash mob,” said Hugh Crawford, general manager at The Village and former Boulder, Colo., resident, the week before the event. “It’s going to bring many people because (Idaho alumni) live here. They might not even go to the bowl game but they will still come out. And Colorado State travels well. Colorado State will have 250 band members. It will be quite a spectacle.”

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl organization, which is owned by the ESPN sports network and based in Boise, has not done an economic impact study of the game, but the organization did provide a tally of various expenses. The organization spends about $1 million on operational expenses such as stadium use, hotel rooms, transportation, food and hospitality including the team activities.

Official hotel nights for team rooms, boosters, alumni and travel rooms arranged by the universities account for about $310,000 and three managed meals, teams and affiliates add about $250,000. The Potato Bowl reserves 700 hotel rooms, according to information provided by the bowl organization, said Kevin McDonald, executive director of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

“The biggest difference (this year) is we have an active and involved fan base because of the University of Idaho,” McDonald said the week prior to the game. “They are buying tickets. There is a big buzz.”

McDonald estimated about 25,000 tickets would sell in Albertsons Stadium, which was configured for a capacity of 31,000. He estimated that 90 percent of tickets sold as of Dec. 15 were to Idaho fans.

“The last 3,000 to 4,000 tickets are hard to sell,” he said.


About Teya Vitu

Teya Vitu is an Idaho Business Review reporter, covering commercial real estate, construction, transportation and whatever else may intrigue him in the moment. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_TeyaVitu.