Army-Navy wraps up good year for Philly

Another year, another successful Army-Navy Game in Philly; well, except for the Cadets, who have lost seven straight in the series. It also means that it’s time for both academies and the Philadelphia Sports Congress to start looking ahead.

Proposals to serve as host for the game from 2010 through 2014 are due in by Jan. 9. The present contract runs through next year. It comes back to Philly, where it will be played on Dec. 12 at Lincoln Financial Field. The date recently was moved to the second Saturday in December, setting it up as the final regular-season college football game of the season and a week after all the conference championships are held nationally. In other words, the move puts the game alone in the spotlight.

Held for years here, the academies began to move it occasionally to other sites. It went to the Meadowlands in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2002. Twice it was played in Baltimore, in 2000 and 2007. For a week or two, word floated that the folks in Dallas were going to try and lure the game to that $1 billion stadium, which will open next year. But they have since looked at the cost of moving both teams and corps from the East Coast and said publicly that they won’t be bidding.

If it were up to officials in Philly, they’d prefer not to share the game with anyone.

“We’re going to make every effort to get it every year,” Larry Needle, the executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress, said yesterday. “We think we, at the end of the day, offer the best package to the academies. If they have other reasons to be in other markets on occasion then that’s their prerogative. But we’re going to make them think long and hard about being home every year, as it were. That’s our intent.”

Needle said if the academies stick to their normal timeframe, that the announcement on the next five dates should be released by late March or early April.

That game put the exclamation point on a year that netted a number of national events. Coming off the unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Olympics in 2006, the city pulled in the U.S. Table Tennis Trials in January and the U.S. Olympics Team Trials – Gymnastics in June. While it’s possible table tennis could come back, it seems certain that gymnastics surely will, since both parties talked about how satisfied they were once that event ended.

Next year’s schedule is similarly packed with the following:
* The first round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships in March at the Wachovia Center.
* The U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa., from July 9-12.
* The Walker Cup, what Needle called the Ryder Cup for amateurs, will take place Sept. 12-13 at Merion Golf Club.
* A meeting of the World Rowing Forum is scheduled for Nov. 5-7 in the city.
* And then Army-Navy.

Beyond those events are two appearances by the PGA AT&T National, better known as Tiger Woods’ tournament, at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square in 2010 and 2011; the NCAA Wrestling Championships in 2011 at the Wachovia Center; and the U.S. Men’s Open at Merion in 2013. “That will be a huge event for the region,” Needle said.

No city gets everything it bids for; indeed, the competition for these college and pro championships and related events gets more crowded every year. Philly missed this year on a couple of events that sought, and there will be as many disappointments as successes ahead. That’s just the nature of the process.

One thing the city said it didn’t bid on was a chance to be part of the NCAA Championship City pilot program. Those went to Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, San Diego, San Antonio and Cary, N.C. Each city will serve as the host of multiple NCAA Division I, Division II and Division III national championships from 2009 through 2012. The city approached 36 cities; 21 applied. The final picks were announced back in mid-September. Needle said that one was on their radar but didn’t fit into the long-term plans.

“We had looked at it when it came out and realistically the challenge we thought in this market and some of the other first-year markets is being able to make some of those Division II and III championships work to the level that we would want and the NCAA would want,” he said. “And in some cases those are just better served to be in smaller markets that can support them. We’d be concerned that a smaller championship could get lost in the shuffle and, frankly, we try to focus on things that we think will really be a home run, will work for the city and the event organizer, and that the fans will embrace.  We’ve had some good success bidding for NCAA events, with everything from lacrosse to obviously basketball to wrestling that we have coming up in 2011. We think we’re better served just being selective for specific events when those opportunities arise.”

And when those arise, will the current economic climate hurt the city’s ability to go after some of these events? Needle thought it could. 

"Realistically, it’s going to be harder to find economic sea dollars from public entities certainly in the near future for understandable reasons,” he said. “So we need to be kind of turning over every stone we can in talking to folks in the private sector, foundations and others to see if they can help us with various bid efforts.”

So does it help knowing other cities are fighting the same financial shortfalls?

“You know what, we assume most people are in the same boat, so you’d like to think that evens the playing field,” Needle said. “But every case is a little bit different and in some cities they might have a stadium where they control the revenue streams. In Philadelphia it’s no longer a municipal building so it’s not like it was when back when it was Veterans Stadium. So it does vary city to city in terms of how much of a challenge it is but, in general, certainly you would think that many people are in that same boat.”

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