Hula Bowl tries to reinvent itself
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brandon Masuoka
A new format, cheaper ticket prices and the participation of University of Hawai'i football coach June Jones are some of the changes being explored by the Hula Bowl, Hawai'i's longest-running sporting attraction that has struggled to draw fans.
The 61st annual game, sponsored this year by Cornerstone Bancard, is scheduled for Jan. 14 at Aloha Stadium.
The format being considered involves pitting a "Hawaiian Islands versus Mainland" matchup — a similar format to when the game was played from 1947 to 1959. Jones said he's open to coach the Hawaiian Islands team, which would have a mix of Hawai'i and Polynesian players.
"We're just in the talking stages," Jones said. "I said I'd be willing to help and try to make it work. I think that's the only chance we have to fill the stadium is to have a bunch of local kids playing in the game again, just like they did at old Honolulu Stadium."
"My reason to explore a format change for the Hula Bowl is very easy and concise," said Hula Bowl owner Nick Logan, who is also considering staying with the East-West format. "I want to ensure the continuation of the game, and encourage the participation of the residents of O'ahu to support the game. I think it's an important part of the history of the sport, and a very important part of the history of athletics in Hawai'i."
Last year's game drew just 7,065 in its return to Aloha Stadium. The game was played on Maui from 1998 to 2005.
In June, the American Football Coaches Association announced the end of its 10-year relationship with the Hula Bowl, citing "philosophical differences" over the future direction of the game. The AFCA and its Hula Bowl selection committee have selected players and coaches for the game.
Logan said the philosophical differences were the Hula Bowl's "consideration of the Hawai'i versus Mainland format, and the discussion of having junior players in the game."
The owner said he's still talking with the AFCA to keep them onboard, and "to have them working with us to appoint their coaches for the game."
In addition to Jones' participation, the Hula Bowl will reduce ticket prices, Logan said. Last year's tickets ranged from $15 to $40.
"We're going to have an inexpensive ticket price for the upper deck at $5," Logan said. "My goal is to provide an entertainment product for the residents of O'ahu. My intention is to price tickets so that we can fill the stadium."
Logan said the Hula Bowl is also "actively investigating the opportunity to bring Japanese players over for the game." The Hula Bowl in the past has invited Japanese players.
The game is working with a national sponsor that would award national "Hula Bowl Player of the Week" honors to college players this season, Logan said. The winning players would be invited to play in the Hula Bowl, and be able to direct a $1,000 donation to a charity in their state.
The game will be televised on ESPN, having switched from ESPN2 last year, and the game will have a new presenting sponsor that has the reach and impact of today's highly popular Web sites, according to Logan. The sponsor could be announced as early as next month, he said.
Logan also said the Hula Bowl has a verbal agreement with a national airlines for a contest with an all-expenses paid trip to Hawai'i.
Reach Brandon Masuoka at email@example.com.