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Orlando outspoken about desire to host Army-Navy football game

The 120th Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 14, 2019.

SGT. JAMES HARVEY/U.S. ARMY

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: March 25, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Many major municipalities throughout the United States would love to host the Army-Navy football game.

Numerous notable cities have responded to the “Request for Proposal” for the event, only to abandon their bid after learning about the hidden costs.

Steve Hogan, Chief Executive Officer for Florida Citrus Sports, was quite outspoken during a recent interview with the Orlando Sentinel about bringing the Army-Navy game to one of the most visited cities in the world.

“When you think of events, I love that Orlando can have the opportunity to be a part of something that’s special,” Hogan told the newspaper earlier this month. “The Army-Navy game would be an experience for people in central Florida and the people who have traditionally attended the game in Philadelphia or Baltimore.”

When the Orlando Sentinel article was posted to social media, many pundits pointed out that musing about hosting Army-Navy is a lot easier than making it happen. There’s a reason why the event has been held almost exclusively in the Northeast corridor of the U.S.

However, Hogan is not naïve to the hurdles that have prevented cities in the South, North, Midwest and West from landing the Army-Navy game. Hogan has been with Florida Citrus Sports since 1995 and would not have held the CEO role for so long without being smart enough to do his homework before spouting off.

“We go into this with eyes wide open. We know exactly what requirements are involved,” Hogan told The Capital on Tuesday.

That is because Hogan carefully reviewed the Request for Proposal the last time it was issued in 2015. Orlando was among many cities to receive the RFP and Hogan ultimately declined to pursue the contest during the current cycle, which concludes in 2022.

However, Orlando is totally on board with bidding for the Army-Navy game during the upcoming contractual cycle, which figures to run from 2023 to 2028. Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said the next Request for Proposal will likely be issued following this year’s game, being held Dec. 12 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

“Delving into the Army-Navy RFP last time around certainly piqued my interest. We now find ourselves in a position to be excited to participate in the next RFP,” said Hogan, noting the game would be held at Camping World Stadium in downtown Orlando.

“You’re talking about one of the greatest events in all of college sports. Orlando would be proud to host the Army-Navy game,” Hogan continued. “That is a game you’ve got to circle and be aggressive to go pursue, and I think we will.”

By far the biggest hurdle involves the stipulation that host cities must bear the full burden of getting the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets to the Army-Navy game. Gladchuk has been Naval Academy athletic director since 2001 and has seen many ambitious bids derailed by that one requirement.

“We’ve had a number of great cities that have thrown their hat in the ring over the years. Cincinnati, Dallas, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Seattle, Tampa — you name it,” Gladchuk said. “Any of those locations could easily host the game. Frankly, any NFL venue could generate the revenue that is required to pull it off.

“However, the X Factor has always been transporting the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets. You’re talking about almost nine thousand people that need to be transported, housed and fed,” Gladchuk continued.

“Frankly, 10 out of 10 times, whenever there has been enthusiasm, that one issue has been the big stumbling block. When organizers realize the amount of money it takes to deliver those student bodies, that always seems to be a deal breaker for these cities.”

Gladchuk said one city that recently got pretty far down the road with its bid for the Army-Navy game had calculated the cost of transporting, housing and feeding the Midshipmen and Cadets at around $5 million.

“You add that on top of the top of the game guarantee to the two institutions and it really becomes a stretch for most cities outside of the northeast corridor,” Gladchuk said.

Hogan, however, did not blink when that issue and the supposed crippling cost was raised in relation to Orlando’s potential bid.

“Obviously, that is absolutely a major part of the equation. If you’re serious about getting this game, that’s a puzzle you have to commit to solving,” Hogan said. “We’re in the business of attracting world-class events to our community and understand the importance of committing to the expense line items that are associated.”

Hogan noted that Florida Citrus Sports has funds dedicated to the pursuit of major events such as Army-Navy but acknowledged significant corporate sponsorship would also be required.

“It probably comes down to fundraising. I would think the private sector would need to support the event,” he said.

Hogan said Florida Citrus Sports has never seriously pursued the Army-Navy football game during his 25-year tenure with the organization. However, Orlando did host the Navy-Notre Dame game in 2000.

Hogan negotiated that deal with former Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel and admitted he does not know Gladchuk very well beyond a couple telephone conversations.

Camping World Stadium certainly qualifies as the caliber of facility necessary to host Army-Navy. In 2014, Florida Citrus Sports undertook a $207 million renovation of the facility, which was previously known as the Florida Citrus Bowl.

Hogan said the stadium was basically leveled then completely rebuilt on the same footprint. Florida Citrus Sports is in the midst of the $60 million finishing phase of Camping World Stadium, which involves the plaza level that features luxury suites and other premium seating.

“We have created a facility that is a lot more competitive in terms of attracting major sporting and entertainment events,” Hogan said. “We removed the obstacle of having a 70-year-old stadium that was showing its age. We now have a first-class facility that unlocks one of the best destinations in the country.”

Camping World Stadium has a normal seating capacity of 60,219 but temporary bleachers can be added to the plaza level in place of the “party deck” to increase capacity to 65,194.

Camping World Stadium has hosted the Florida Classic, the annual football rivalry game between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman, every year since 1997.

Following the first phase of renovations, Florida Citrus Sports created the Camping World Kickoff series that brought in Florida State-Mississippi (2016), Alabama-Louisville (2018) and Florida-Miami (2019).

Florida Citrus Sports also annually hosts two collegiate postseason contests — the Camping World Bowl and Citrus Bowl. Camping World Stadium has hosted the NFL Pro Bowl the last four years and the Under Armour All-American game the past six.

International soccer matches, WrestleMania, Monster Jam shows, concerts and music festivals are also part of the annual lineup. Florida Citrus Sports is bidding to have Orlando selected as host city for the 2026 World Cup and has also been pushing to host a regular season NFL game.

Hogan, for one, believes the Army-Navy football game would be well served by touching other markets on occasion. He is hopeful Orlando will be given serious consideration as a possible host city.

“We’ve always had an eye on and been fond from afar of this particular event,” he said. “We stand ready, willing and able to welcome the Army-Navy game. All we’re asking for is a chance to compete for this great American tradition.”

Philadelphia was awarded four of five games as part of the most recent contract that covered 2018 through 2022. The City of Brotherly Love has currently hosted 89 of the 120 Army-Navy games held to date.

MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey will serve as site of the 2021 Army-Navy game, which will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

It will be the fifth time Army-Navy has been played at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, which last hosted the event in 2002. Leaders of both service academies felt it would be appropriate to hold the classic rivalry 11 miles from the site of the World Trade Center, where America changed forever when two commercial jetliners hijacked by terrorists crashed into the Twin Towers on 9/11.

©2020 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)
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