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Armed Forces Bowl: Academies, Bell Helicopter play prominent roles

Brant Ringler has a unique business card. It is actually two cards in one.

On one side, Ringler is listed as executive director of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. On the other side, Ringler is listed as executive director of the Heart of Dallas Bowl, presented by PlainsCapital Bank.

Ringler holds the dual titles on behalf of ESPN Regional Television, which owns both Texas-based bowls that are being held two days and 40 miles apart. Navy is meeting Middle Tennessee State in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Monday at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth. On Wednesday, North Texas will take on UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at fabled Cotton Bowl Stadium.

ESPN Regional Television got into the collegiate bowl business in the late 1990s when it bought the Las Vegas Bowl and the Hawaii Bowl. The network now owns nine postseason contests, all of which appear on its various channels.

“Obviously, if you own the game, you don’t have to pay a rights fee,” Ringler explained. “Programming is also an important element. Viewers love watching bowl games during the holidays, and ESPN carries almost all of them.”

ESPN or one of its affiliates will air 33 of 35 bowls being held during the 2013-2014 cycle with the Cotton Bowl (Fox) and Sun Bowl (CBS) the only exceptions.

ESPN executives were working with Texas Christian University on some sponsorship deals when they toured Amon G. Carter Stadium and other facilities at the school’s Fort Worth campus. Both sides agreed the city, school and stadium would serve as terrific hosts for a postseason event and the PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl was born in 2003.

PlainsCapital Bank pulled out as title sponsor after two years, and the game was held in 2005 without a corporate partner. ESPN executives decided to rename the event the Armed Forces Bowl, and Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter Textron eagerly took over the sponsorship.

“This is our eighth year with Bell Helicopter, and the company has been just fantastic. Their people are fully engaged in the bowl and want to be involved with all aspects of the process,” Ringler said.

This marks the sixth time in the eight-year history of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl that a service academy has been involved. Air Force has appeared in the contest four times (2007, 2008, 2009, 2012), and Army accepted a bid in 2010.

“We’re the first bowl game in history to have all three service academies participate, and they add to the theme of what we try to do here in honoring all five branches of the service,” Ringler said.

The Armed Forces Bowl has a number of contracts in play with an American Athletic Conference school slated to play Army in next year’s contest. The Big 12 Conference will provide a school if Army fails to qualify for the postseason.

Beginning in 2015, there will be a rotation that finds either a Big 10 or Big 12 school playing either an American Athletic or Mountain West opponent. Navy is scheduled to appear again in 2016, while Army is on the docket for 2017.

“We have established a format that works very well, so now, it’s about building on what we’ve started,” Ringler said.

Patriotic overtones recognizing all five branches of the military are prevalent throughout the event. An Armed Forces Adventure Area set up outside the stadium features military equipment and hardware, while the pregame festivities feature fly-overs and sky divers.

Military Warriors Support Foundation annually awards a new home to a wounded veteran, while Armed Forces Insurance presents the Great American Patriot Award. Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of United States Special Operations, is this year’s recipient of the latter honor, presented at halftime.

“Bell Helicopter sponsors the Armed Forces Bowl to pay tribute and show our support for the men and women of the U.S. military and their families,” said Robert Hastings, senior vice president and Chief of Staff for Bell Helicopter. “It’s a natural partnership for us. Not only do we build and support many of the helicopters and tilt-rotors that our warriors are using around the world today, but more than 25 percent of the employees at Bell today are veterans. Supporting and honoring those that wear our nation’s colors is personal to us.”

Fort Worth and surrounding areas have gotten behind the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, which has a 30-member Executive Council comprised primarily of local residents. In addition to the title sponsor, there are 100 other corporate partners, while dozens of volunteers assist the full-time ESPN staff during game week.

“The Fort Worth community is very proud of the bowl and comes out in force to support both the game — and more importantly — the men and women of the armed forces and their families that we are honoring,” Hastings said. “This is a very patriotic community, and it shows with all the game day activities — from free tickets for military personnel, meals and transportation for our troops to scholarships and — my personal favorite — the home that is given to a wounded warrior during halftime.”

Ringler also praised the efforts of Texas Christian University in assisting with bowl operations, most notably by completing a $164 million renovation of Amon G. Carter Stadium that makes the facility ideal for hosting such a major event.

“This bowl is on very sound footing. It has the backing of ESPN, an outstanding sponsor and a very strong organizational structure,” Ringler said. “I think the Armed Forces Bowl is here to stay.”

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