When Boston College and Penn State exit their locker rooms, run up dugout steps, and explode onto the turf at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, it'll be the culmination of a five-year odyssey for the New York Yankees and their non-baseball events marketing team.
All week long, we've talked at length about the venue, how this is the right time for BC, the right combination for the Yankees, the right matchup with Penn State. We've talked about how both fan bases responded in spades, selling out the game fast enough to make this one of the most sought after bowl tickets of 2014-2015. We've talked about how it's the right venue, the right city, with the right amount of power to make this a great Tier I bowl matchup.
Over the past decade, we've watched Boston transform from a fragmented sports city into the toast of the sports universe. Nearly every major event's played out along its streets - three World Series championships, two Stanley Cup Final runs, two NBA Finals runs. We watched the New England Patriots, further south in Foxboro, make playoff run after playoff run. There's been national championships for Boston College hockey, national titles for Boston University hockey, the Head of the Charles Regatta. We watched the despair of the Boston Marathon tragedies of 2013 only strengthen the world's resolve to run in '14, and over 36,000 runners helped make it one of the largest, most successful events ever. Boston's Olympic bid is starting to pick up some steam.
As part of the flourishing sports scene, we watched Fenway Park transition from the home of the Boston Red Sox into one of the busiest venues in the city. It's become a year-round place for Bostonians to congregate from concerts to hockey games. Next year, it'll host the first football game since 1968 when Boston College plays "at" Notre Dame as part of the Shamrock Series.
So let's ask ourselves - could Boston host a postseason football game?
For bowl games, this is the biggest factor. The Pinstripe Bowl originally hosted the Big East. At the time, "local" schools like Syracuse, Rutgers, and UConn had access to the game. To oppose the Big East, the Big 12 signed on, giving the game a marquee feel with some larger named teams. Last year, the Big East became the AAC, a league still with access to a then-BCS game.
Switching affiliations this year was the smart move for the Pinstripe Bowl. The AAC found itself on the outs, necessitating a change. The ACC is expanding its footprint in the north, and the Big Ten is a "northern conference." As a result, the switch became natural, allowing access to teams like Syracuse, BC, Northwestern, and Penn State.
A Boston-based bowl almost assuredly would need that blueprint, starting with at least one local power league. New York originally brought in the Big XII to go with the Big East. Boston could start with the ACC as its local power, then add a league like the Pac-12, which doesn't have a bowl game east of Texas.
As special as Gillette Stadium felt for a regular season game, it would lack the atmosphere needed for a special postseason game; its location is prohibitive to a big buildup. Gillette is located closer to Providence than Boston, a definite problem for Boston-based organizers. It's also virtually inaccessible via road, and there's one MBTA commuter rail train stop in the parking lot.
As a result, Gillette isn't sustainable as a bowl game venue, which is typically a result of where as opposed to the cause. Wherever an NFL game is played, it takes over central attraction status. Tier I or lower tier bowl games need a whole package, and Foxboro, a one-horse town an hour outside of a major city, isn't it.
Fenway Park, meanwhile, is a venerable structure that's part of the "Boston experience." Like Yankee Stadium, people can travel into the city without having to leave to get there. Easily accessible by train, travelers don't need to have a car. It's more intimate and, situated in the city, allows people coming to experience Boston along with the game as opposed to having to travel solely for the game.
Even in spite of the overexposure of the outdoor hockey game, Fenway Park retains mystique. One of the things the Yankees are exceptional at is marketing their stadium. It's not the place where Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle played. The Yankees, though, are able to parlay the mystique and aura of their brand into that stadium. Fenway is still the stadium where Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Pedro Martinez played. There's no reason a football game can't capitalize on that.
If nothing else, the Yankees are great at marketing. Their methodology is sound - they know who they are and they aren't afraid to admit it. They aren't humble, but they are not arrogant. There's a confidence in their abilities as a New York City brand
That same confidence is something the Red Sox exude. Fenway Sports Group is fantastic at the way they can build anything at Fenway, whether it's Liverpool FC or an outdoor hockey game. They know what they have, and they put it on display with confidence. They command attention. They would know how to market this game, whether it's called a Football Beanpot, Yawkey Bowl, Fenway Bowl, Patriot Bowl, or anything else they drum up.
For that reason, if Boston wanted to get in on the college football postseason show, it would have to be a Red Sox production. The Patriots and Bruins are immensely popular, but the Red Sox are an institution head and shoulders above them.
Could football at Fenway happen? Maybe. Would it be worthwhile? Maybe. Is it worth discussing? Absolutely.