College football’s bowl season is upon us, as 39 bowl games across the United States (and the Bahamas) will host 78 of the best teams in the sport. Very few of these big games are played in the north due to the cold weather, but that didn’t matter to Mark Holtzman and the New York Yankees when they pitched the Pinstripe Bowl nearly a decade ago.
“I think we’ve proven to everyone that college football in New York around the holidays can work,” said Holtzman. “New York is a very special time around the holidays. We got a lot of tourists here and the players on both teams have enjoyed playing here. A lot of the kids from these have never been to New York City before.”
The idea for the Pinstripe Bowl was not just to expand the amount of events Yankee Stadium hosts each year, but also pay tribute to George Steinbrenner. The late Yankee owner was not only a big college football fan but had a history of being an assistant football coach at big universities such as Ohio State, Northwestern and Purdue. Holtzman, who joined the Yankees as executive director of non-baseball events when the new Yankee Stadium first opened up, has been working to make Steinbrenner’s vision a reality.
“He specifically wanted a footprint of this stadium to be able to accommodate football,” said Holtzman. “I don’t think he ever dreamt that we would gain such traction so quickly but once we set the tone, it set us up to bring in some great college football and create the Pinstripe Bowl.”
After a presentation in front of the NCAA board, the yearly Bronx game was born and announced as the “Yankee Bowl” in September of 2009. It was then renamed to the Pinstripe Bowl in the spring of 2010 with the title sponsor being New Era, a headwear company that has since become the official company of multiple major sports leagues. The bowl would be played in late December and the winning team would win the George M. Steinbrenner trophy.
“We never said die,” said Holtzman. “We got some conferences that believed in us in the Big East and Big 12. We got a television partner that believes in us in ESPN. And we had a title sponsor that believed in us in New Era. We couldn’t have a better partner because the family behind the business has been friends with the Steinbrenner family going way back.”
The first game pitted the Big East’s Syracuse against the Big 12’s Kansas State, with Syracuse squeaking out a win in a 36-34 thriller. Since then, the game has continued to grow and evolve. After the Big East’s implosion in 2013, the Pinstripe Bowl shifted its focus on getting better teams from elite conferences. The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the Big Ten became the official affiliates in 2014.
“We really wanted to bring a higher pick into these games,” said Holtzman. “He just made more sense to go with those conferences. Two of the largest established conference. These commissioner’s are committed to this bowl.”
The selection process for the team’s that participate is different between the conferences. For the Big Ten, the Pinstripe Bowl is given a number and the team that correlates with that number based off their success goes to New York. As for the ACC, the bowl is part of a tier of bowls ranked by the ACC. They work with other bowls in that tier to decide which team works best for them.
This year’s game may be its biggest battle yet: The Miami Hurricanes taking on the Wisconsin Badgers in a game between two teams that fell way short of national title expectations but have such rich history and strong fan bases. It’s also a rematch of last year’s Orange Bowl, which Wisconsin took 34-24.
“We’re fortunate here in New York because a lot of these big schools have a tremendous amount of alumni in this marketplace,” said Holtzman. “It’s extremely saturated. Other bowls don’t quite have that advantage.”
Leading up to the event, athletes from both teams will participate in New York-based events such as ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and seeing a show at Radio City Music Hall. There’s a huge charitable component of the game as well, with athletes visiting the kids pediatric unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering in the city and holding a chalk talk at Yankees Stadium for local youth. All of this will lead into the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27, set to kick off at 5:15 p.m.
“If you want to see top college football teams in a great venue to watch sports, this is where you want to go,” said Holtzman. “How many times during the year do you have two top football brands playing against each other in the New York metropolitan area? It’s been a rough year for professional football in New York. College football brings a great atmosphere, especially in bowl games. What better way to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s then coming to this game?”
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.pinstripebowl.com.