MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Since it started 14 years ago, Mobile's "other" bowl game has provided college football fans exciting and record breaking performances. We have seen high scoring teams and future NFL players in the bowl game now known as the GoDaddy.com Bowl (formerly the GMAC Bowl).
Jerry Silverstein has been there since the beginning when it was just an idea. The co-founder and president of the bowl game recently shared about the game, its formula for success and how his business career prepared him for the opportunity.
"We were talking football and talking about the Senior Bowl and how great a city Mobile is. Then, Stan Tiner, editor of the Press Register at that time, asked, ‘Well, how come Mobile, Alabama, can't have a bowl game besides the Senior Bowl?' So, then Mobile Mayor Mike Dow looked at us, and he said, ‘I think we need to explore that,'" Silverstein remembered.
Silverstein was one of the people talking football. He said it was early 1999 when he, Mike Gottfried and others "started exploring" the possibilities of another bowl game in Mobile. That December, Silverstein became the co-founder and president of the then GMAC Bowl.
A successful local businessman, Silverstein brought his years of experience to the organization.
"I was raised around business. I worked in friends of the family's department stores, local and down on Dauphin Street. I sold things for the school to win trips. I always aspired to be an entrepreneur. An uncle of mine was in real estate and investments, and he gave me an opportunity. He said, ‘You're going to have to earn it.' He was my mentor. When I got out of college, I learned how to scratch and claw and to make a living," Silverstein said.
Along with his business expertise, Silverstein also has a love of sports.
"I've always been a football fan. I grew up in sports. I was a swimmer locally here, trained at the University of Texas in Austin and then did my collegiate swimming at the University of Alabama. I've always been around athletics, and I've always been around sports," he said.
"There is another side of sports, and that's business. I did not have a football background. I had a business background that allowed me to financially put it together, how to manage it and meet certain financial requirements that the NCAA required. We had to negotiate contracts with ESPN, with the City of Mobile and be considered for certification," Silverstein shared.
Silverstein said he, like former Mayor Dow, knew the game would be good for Mobile.
"Absolutely, you're able to show off the city to out-of-towners that might not ever have come here before. What we're selling is Mobile. We were going to be bringing jobs, around Christmas time and New Year's for these families that work in the hotels and restaurants. These people are usually laid off during Christmas. The economic impact that people spending money in the city, hotel rooms and restaurants and shopping and the numbers were very staggering when you start bringing in 15,000 -20,000 people for three or four days into your city, especially during that time of the year," Silverstein said.
Silverstein said in the late 1990s, the conferences were looking for additional bowl games and someone to step up to the plate. Mobile did, and initially hosted teams from Conference USA and the Western Athletic Conference.
"We know what we are in Mobile, Alabama. We want to be the best that we can be in the type level or the competition. We're not the Sugar Bowl, and we're not the National Championship Game, so we want to be the best at what we can be. We're able to get exciting teams, and we look for the marquee players and the teams that score a lot of offense," Silverstein said.
The 2001 matchup between Marshall University and East Carolina University broke all NCAA college football bowl game scoring records.
"(The game totaled) 125 points, most points scored in a college football bowl game," Silverstein proudly reflected. "This game is known for offense, so offense as they say sells tickets. We're able to draw really good crowds. We either have sell outs or very close to sell outs every year. You know we've had future Hall of Famers like Ladainian Tomlinson, Ben Roethlisberger. We've been very fortunate to always have an exciting game," Silverstein said.
Despite a successful track record, Silverstein said there are challenges every year.
"Having something new that your sponsors enjoy to make sure your sponsors are getting their benefit, to make sure that they're getting their bang for their buck. Some of them have been with us from day one, and we're very grateful for them. This could not happen without sponsorship. Number two, keeping it fresh bringing new teams here and that brings new out of town people, new exposure for the bowl game and the city," Silverstein said.
The bowl game now has a long term contract with the Mid American and Sunbelt Conferences. Silverstein believes the seven year deal is good for the GoDaddy.com Bowl and will
help keep it around.
"We're always going to have a great team here and teams that are excited about coming here. This is a reward for them. This is their Rose Bowl, and this is what some of them have said, ‘This is our goal we want to come to Mobile,'" Silverstein said.
Silverstein said the bowl game being on national television the day before the National Championship Game is great exposure for the sponsors and Mobile. Silverstein also credits his staff and the community programs they put on throughout the year as another reason for the bowl game's success.
Their community service work includes the spelling bee with the school board, the reading programs, the cheerleading competition, and a celebrity golf tournament in May. Silverstein said it's a year round situation.
Officials report that the GoDaddy.com Bowl has a nearly $20 million economic impact in the Mobile area.
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