New Orleans Bowl extends deal with Sun Belt, Conference USA

In a time of shifting bowl partnerships and sponsorships, the New Orleans Bowl has become a model of stability.

The bowl announced Tuesday that its agreement with the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA has been extended for six years through the 2019 season.

This year’s game will be played at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and air on ESPN. Future bowls will continue on the weekend before Christmas.

“We’re moving into the next evolution of bowl games,” bowl director Billy Ferrante said. “This gives us some consistency with our conferences and security with our selections.

“We’ve had a good, long history with both of these conferences, and that was something all sides were looking to continue. Any time you can lock up good partners like this is a win.”

The New Orleans-based Sun Belt Conference actually created the New Orleans Bowl in 2001, the league’s first year as a football entity, turning it over to the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation the following year. The New Orleans Bowl has had first choice among Sun Belt teams since then.

Last year’s game between Louisiana-Lafayette and East Carolina drew a bowl record 48,828 fans. It was the fourth straight victory in the game by the Sun Belt team and gave the league a 7-5 lead over all other foes.

“While the Sun Belt has grown tremendously and has improved every year since the first New Orleans Bowl, our relationship with the game is as valuable as ever,” Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said. “So we are very proud to extend this relationship with the bowl game, the city of New Orleans and Sports Foundation.”

The Sun Belt also has agreements with the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile and the newly created Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., which will debut next season.

Conference USA became the New Orleans Bowl’s other partner in 2002 and has sent a team in nine of the 11 years since.

The new six-year contact follows a four-year deal that expired this season.

“All of the bowls and conferences seem to be moving in this direction,” Ferrante said. “So what we’re doing is being consistent with everyone else.

“There’s been a lot of moving around in the conferences and that may continue. But we feel there always will be regional appeal for these two leagues.”

The sponsorship with R+L Carriers, which began in 2006, is two years into a five-year contact.

“Any time you have base stability with your title sponsor, it can only grow the game,” Ferrante said. “We probably have one of the longest-tenured sponsorships out there right now.”

Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky also announced Tuesday that the conference has secured future relationships with ESPN Regional Television, a subsidiary of ESPN, to participate in five different bowl games over the next six years, securing three bowl positions per season.

The agreements are with four ESPN owned and operated bowls: the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.; the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas; the Gildan New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, N.M.; and the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl in Honolulu; as well as the Heart of Dallas Bowl presented by PlainsCapital Bank.

These partnerships will include games following the 2014-2019 seasons, and C-USA will participate in three of the five games each year.

Additional future bowl partnerships for Conference USA will be announced at a later date.