Prince George's County businessman Keith Howard has formed a sports and entertainment company that he hopes will host Maryland's first college football bowl game.
Through his company, Maryland Sports and Entertainment, Howard is looking for investors and sponsors to raise the $5 million he said he will need to apply for a bowl game before the National Collegiate Athletic Association's April deadline. Howard said he believes the sporting event would benefit the economy in Prince George's.
"I have seen the impact [bowl games] have on small towns. I want to bring something similar here to stimulate growth," Howard said. "The timing is right. Our community is ready to host . . . and part of what we want to do is promote local companies."
Howard's company is the second Prince George's organization to try to use football as an economic driver, playing off the national visibility of the Washington Redskins' stadium in Landover. The Prince George's Black Chamber of Commerce, headed by Mike Little and Hubert "Petey" Green, hosted the Prince George's Classic football game last month at Fed Ex Field.
Both Howard and the chamber said that hosting sporting events in Prince George's brings regional and national attention to the county by drawing visitors to the games and accompanying events, and customers to the county's hotels and restaurants.
Howard, who has served on a half-dozen committees intended to improve the county's school system, said he would direct a portion of the money raised by his bowl game to Prince George's schools.
"My primary reason for hosting the game is to give back to the school system. They are under-funded," Howard said. "I want to be able to give something that makes an immediate and long-term impact. If we want to live a certain quality of life, education and public safety must be a priority."
Howard, who grew up in Prince George's, coaches football at the school from which he graduated, Crossland High School in Temple Hills. He also runs a small security guard contracting company in Lanham, Areawide Electronic Security Systems. After his company lost a major federal contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last year, Howard said he decided to combine his three passions: football, education and business.
The proposed college football bowl game, which Howard calls the Maryland Bowl, is his new company's first attempt. Before Howard can move forward, the Maryland Bowl would have to be approved by the NCAA's football certification committee, which considers a lengthy bidder's application, the availability of sports facilities in the area and what corporate sponsor agreement bowl organizers have obtained, said NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson. Sponsors must agree to pay the two teams that participate in the bowl game at least $750,000 each.
Howard said he would like to enter the bowl in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which already hosts six bowl games. The ACC is home of the University of Maryland's football team, which is based in Prince George's County. He is also considering the Big East, because he attended college at the University of Pittsburgh, which is a Big East school, and the Mid-American Conference, which is based in Cleveland and includes mostly Midwestern schools. Its members heavily recruit Prince George's County high school football players, Howard said. The Big East hosts five bowl games, and the Mid-American Conference hosts two. The Maryland Bowl's major sponsor and the NCAA would ultimately decide which conference the bowl would be in.
To help him prepare his NCAA application, Howard got in touch with old friends he made as a recruiter for the University of Pittsburgh's football team and began researching the NCAA requirements for hosting a bowl game.
He was then contacted by Ellen Zavian, an adjunct professor of sporting event law at George Washington University. Zavian had heard about Howard's idea and offered to consult with him if he'd allow some of her students to work with him to develop his idea.
"The climate at the NCAA right now is focused on quality bowl games versus quantity," Howard said. "It would take a well-established plan with support from the Prince George's community as well as sponsors to gain approval. . . . I wouldn't put my time into this project unless I thought it had potential."
Zavian's students are expected to begin working with Howard next semester. Currently, Howard is Maryland Sports and Entertainment's only employee. His primary goal is finding a title sponsor. The title sponsor's name is attached to the bowl game, and it pays the purse for the two college football teams that play in the bowl.
Howard hopes to earn money from a week of attractions surrounding his proposed bowl game, such as a golf tournament, meet-and-greet events and parties.
"You want a sold-out game and good ratings on TV, and from that you spawn hats and shirts and events," Howard said.
Profitable college football games are not easy to pull off, said Little of the Prince George's Black Chamber of Commerce. He said he and his team worked hard to attract sponsors, including Chrysler, Comcast, the Redskins and the State of Maryland, for the Prince George's Classic, which was held in September. The game is part of a tradition in which historically black colleges and universities compete. His group raised $1.5 million to host the Prince George's Classic, but the game lost money. He said only a few people attended the football contest because it rained. The chamber is evaluating whether to host it again next year.
"We learned a lot," Little said. "We all recognized that weather hurt attendance. It is just innately part of the risk."