Pasadena could learn lesson from demise of Orange Bowl

By Gabe Lacques
Staff Writer

PASADENA -- The biggest indicator of the Rose Bowl's vulnerability can't be found in the venerable stadium's foundation.

And don't bother combing its perimeter, or shaking down the residents of the surrounding neighborhood, who are often perceived as the stadium's Public Enemy No. 1.

Rather, look 3,000 miles to the southeast, where another once-proud facility tumbled from the ranks of relevance.

The Orange Bowl. Maybe you remember it home of the Miami Dolphins, the University of Miami Hurricanes and the New Year's night bowl game that traditionally followed the Rose Bowl.

Now, the Dolphins are gone, having broken in their new digs in 1987. The Orange Bowl game, despite a sentimental outcry from the community, departed too, in 1996. That left only the Hurricanes, soccer matches and the occasional concert to a venue that in the 1980s gained a reputation as one of the most raucous places for a college or pro football team to play in.

But raucous crowds don't pay the bills the way 195 luxury boxes can. Enter Joe Robbie Stadium.

Now called Pro Player Stadium, Joe Robbie opened in 1987, ultimately luring the Dolphins, a major league baseball franchise and the Orange Bowl game.

The Orange Bowl was left with mostly memories. Memories of four Super Bowls, countless bowl games and the only undefeated season in NFL history, produced by the 1972 Dolphins.

Predictably, six college football games per year and a smattering of miscellaneous events weren't enough to maintain operating expenses.

The stadium once had 18 full-time employees. Now there are two.

"We still make money here," said Orange Bowl General Manager Eliana Gomez, who has worked for the stadium for 16 years. "We meet our budget. But of course, it hurts. It hurts a lot. Pro Player has football and baseball. But other than that, there's no main events that happen in large venues anymore.

"Concerts would rather go to closed stadiums or arenas ... they don't want to risk a rain day, or not selling enough tickets."

The Orange Bowl has University of Miami football locked up through 2010. While the Rose Bowl's present is a little more viable, it doesn't even have its primary tenant, UCLA football, signed for an extended period. Its contract with UCLA expires after the 2003 season. While it will likely be renewed, the presence of a new stadium in Los Angeles could quite possibly lure the Bruins.

If that should happen, Gomez said the Rose Bowl's days could be numbered.

"I am sure. I am very sure that that would happen," she said. "Definitely."

Trouble Bruin?
Even though it's older than the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl has held up well against its younger cousin.

The Orange Bowl's general disrepair in the early 1990s contributed to the stadium losing its trademark bowl game. The low point was the Jan. 1, 1990, Orange Bowl matchup pitting Notre Dame against Miami, when raw sewage from overflowing toilets dripped on fans.

Beyond that, the similarities begin. Both stadiums are old. Both lack enough luxury boxes and deluxe amenities, all but killing the chance to lure major teams. Both rely heavily on college football tenants for revenue. And both are quite vulnerable to newer facilities opening in the same marketplace.

The Orange Bowl survived, but not without severe repercussions. The Rose Bowl has yet to face that challenge, but it could merely be a question of when, not if.

"There's a feeling I get from talking to people that the NFL wants to come back here," said David Simon, president of the Los Angeles Sports Council. "Whether that's five or 10 years from now, nobody knows. It won't come unless a stadium of 60-70,000 plus is in really good shape for them.

"Assuming that place is somewhere outside Pasadena, once that new or refurbished facility opens, that's competition for every stadium on the market. To me, that's the (Rose Bowl's) challenge, long-term."

Without that stadium, the Bruins and the Rose Bowl are more or less stuck with each other. UCLA athletic director Peter Dalis said the current Rose Bowl management team is much more in tune with his school's needs than in the past, and the relationship between the two is stronger than ever.

Dalis said the school cannot commit long-term to the Rose Bowl because the UCLA's bylaws prevent an agreement of longer than seven years.

Some city officials were horrified when, just before the start of the 2000 football season, UCLA was removed from the Rose Bowl advisory board. But that potential public relations disaster isn't as damaging as other factors in the Rose Bowl-UCLA relationship.

Like location.

"It is a haul," Dalis said of the three-freeway, 30-mile trek from UCLA's Westwood digs to Pasadena. "Even though we provide free bus transportation from residence halls, it is a haul."

And comfort.

"My biggest complaint has been the comfort level of the seats they installed," Dalis said. "It's been difficult for some of our fans in terms of knee space."

Meanwhile, Rose Bowl officials can do little more than hope that a stadium either doesn't emerge, or is built so far away from Westwood like south Orange County that the Arroyo Seco remains UCLA's top choice.

"That's a death blow," Rose Bowl Operating Company President Porfirio Frausto said of a possible Bruin move. "Not only for the economics of the city, but to me, where do you get another major college? That would put a couple nails in the coffin."

Adds Councilman Bill Crowfoot: "It would be a major disaster for our stadium. That's the soul of the stadium going out the front door. That stadium was built for collegiate football. That is its history. That's what it's best suited to do.

"If UCLA leaves, and we don't do anything like, get an NFL team, then maybe we ought to just bulldoze the thing and build a golf course. It would be a disaster for our self-image as a city, and the preservation of stadium."

Rose move?
The Tournament of Roses' contract with the Rose Bowl expires June 30, 2019. TofR CEO Mitch Dorger said his organization's contract with the city "as part of our overall arrangement has us hold our game in our stadium."

But even Dorger has some concerns.

Last December, he sent a letter to Crowfoot urging the city's Business Enterprise Committee to not accept a recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Commission that would exclude both Brookside Golf Course and the stadium from receiving "greens fees set-aside revenue" as part of Arroyo Seco development.

"We are deeply concerned about the future of the Stadium," Dorger wrote. "Facilities of this age require a lot of funding attention in order to keep them current and viable, and we are frankly concerned about where the revenues for upkeep may come in the future.

"... Until very recently the size of the Rose Bowl stadium and the popularity of the game allowed us to generate revenues that made us the most desirable postseason bowl game. Times are changing. The new Bowl Championship Series agreement levels the playing field for bowls, and the former power and leverage of the bowls has shifted to the BCS, which the Rose Bowl agreed to join three years ago. While our current agreement with ABC and the BCS runs through 2006, there are no guarantees of inclusion beyond that ... Stadiums have been and will be a consideration in determining which bowls will be members of the BCS elite."

Dorger said the Rose Bowl won't be so easily strong-armed by the BCS, which he said forced the Orange Bowl out of its original stadium because it didn't have luxury boxes and was in generally poor condition. The BCS and Rose Bowl, he said, "are at an arm's length and a handshake, rather than as a member."

Therefore, he says, nothing short of a wrecking ball would wrest the game from Pasadena.

"It would only be under the wildest set of circumstances under which there'd be that consideration," Dorger said. "I hope (the stadium) does not ever get into disrepair. If we saw the stadium going downhill, we would be working very closely with the city in order to make sure it did not do that."

One way that could happen is a UCLA move. If it lost the Bruins, the Rose Bowl would be without any major tenant and still would be saddled with bond debt through 2016. Capital improvement funds are already lacking; they'd be all but nonexistent without sufficient revenue streams.

"We have a stadium in a small city," Rose Bowl general manager Darryl Dunn said. "Miami can absorb some of those hits. Here, it's not the case."

An August 2000 RBOC finance report details five possible event scenarios the stadium could face. The worst-case scenario a new stadium luring UCLA, leaving the Rose Bowl with the Rose Bowl game and a handful of other "special events" would leave the Rose Bowl with a negative cash flow of $1.2 million.

Of course, that stadium has to come along first. For the Rose Bowl, no news is good news.

"I would just note that (stadiums) are not easy to build or inexpensive to build," councilman Steve Madison said. "So far, none of those proposals has ever really taken hold. Let's assume there was a 90,000-seat stadium in West L.A., closer to UCLA, that was a state-of-the-art facility. We'd be in danger of losing them.

"But I don't think we can obsess too much about it. We don't control that, clearly. We will always have the Rose Bowl."

Forgive Gomez, the Orange Bowl GM, if those words ring a bit hollow.

"I never thought this was going to happen," says the Orange Bowl's only full-time employee outside of the groundskeeper. "Ever. But we don't have luxury boxes. Corporations, big companies are looking to have luxury boxes. You bring in a new facility, a new place to play ... it's difficult."

-- Gabe Lacques can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2239, or at


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