Are there too many bowl games? Of course, silly.

Is the New Mexico Bowl worth keeping? Well, if you like watching college football, sure. If we’re really looking at the value the game brings, I’m going to give it a thumbs-up.

For now.

Before this year, the New Mexico Bowl has consistently brought fans to the stands. The Central Michigan-San Diego State matchup last month, however, sold only 18,823 tickets — and yes, we know that the crowd size did not match up with tickets sold, if you used the old eyeball test — but it was the first time the bowl game dipped below 20,000.

And if you go by the announced attendance figures, the New Mexico Bowl had never seen less than 24,000 for any of the previous 13 games. By that account, it appears the game caters to an audience that wants to see a college football game. Wait, we are talking about the same community that couldn’t get Dreamstyle Stadium half full — using the eyeball test — for all but one of UNM’s home games this year, right?

The argument will be made that, since this was the first time that the two opponents were from further than a state away, it made a huge difference in terms of attendance, and, from a larger perspective, economic impact.

Albuquerque city officials claimed the bowl game averaged about $3.5 million in direct spending. For large cities, there is a need and a desire for events that draw large crowds to help boost the economy, and the New Mexico Bowl fits that bill. But when you start losing fans and the money that comes from it, then the event loses its oomph.

Add to that the Associated Press story about the dwindling crowds at bowl games in general, and there is cause for concern.

Prior to the sudden dip, attendance for the New Mexico Bowl has steadily declined since peaking at 30,289 for the 2015 matchup between Arizona and UNM.

James Barron and Will Webber discuss the significant toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on sports locally and nationally, and also share their thoughts on a bizarre state basketball tournament that finished in front of no fans.

While ESPN, which owns the bowl, might be happy with simply having ready-made programming for the holiday season, it can’t be good that the game had the second-lowest rating (0.49, according to the sports website Sports Media Watch).

Of course, when the idea is to simply have something to watch, it can’t hurt to have programming on a Saturday afternoon when the only competition is the still-young college basketball season and a couple of NFL regular-season games.

If you’re a fan of the New Mexico Bowl, you hope that next year’s edition returns to the “halcyon” days of a mostly full stadium and less talk about poorly thought-out sponsorship deals that turned into a soap opera.

New Mexico Bowl Executive Director Jeff Siembieda probably celebrated the calendar turning to “2020” with aplomb because 2019 was a disaster for the New Mexico Bowl. From the DreamHouse sponsorship debacle to the less-than-ideal matchup — even though we had a direct UNM tie in with former San Diego State head coach Rocky Long’s team playing in the game — made for a trying year for him.

What’s the best way to turn that frown upside-down? Well, the hiring of Danny Gonzales as UNM head coach could help. No one is expecting Gonzales to suddenly turn the Lobos into conference contenders, but if he coaxed six wins out of the team (and that’s a big if), you know the New Mexico Bowl will come calling.

And why not? Four of the five largest New Mexico Bowl crowds involved the Lobos, who also have the most appearances in the contest.

Regardless of the game’s recent woes, there is one indisputable fact: Bowl games are going to happen. And they’re not dying off, by any means.

Let’s face it, if the New Mexico Bowl dissolves, some other bowl will take its place, anyway.

Hey, the Santa Fe Bowl has a ring to it, doesn’t it?

James Barron writes an opinion column about sports in New Mexico. Contact Barron at 505-986-3045 or jbarron@sfnewmexican.com.

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