A Reese’s Senior Bowl practice in Fairhope appears unlikely this year since a majority of the City Council has indicated an unwillingness to pay $35,000 for an event that used to come free.
“It’s their decision. They can do what they please,” said Rob Lehockey, director of public relations and digital media for the Senior Bowl.
If council members change their minds, the Senior Bowl would have to know within a week, Lehockey said Friday. The council’s last meeting of the year is Thursday, and no item related to the Senior Bowl appeared on the agenda released Monday.
The council never made a formal decision on whether to pay for the practice, but discussed the matter informally during a work session last week. The Senior Bowl requested $35,000 for the first time last year and the council voted in favor. This time, most council members indicated they were not willing to do it again.
This year’s college senior showcase will be held Jan. 28. Traditionally, one practice has been held at Fairhope’s municipal stadium. The Senior Bowl invites players who are potential NFL draft picks or are good enough to sign as free agents. NFL scouts and coaches attend and closely watch the practices, which are considered more important for evaluating prospects than the game itself.
The Senior Bowl website, www.seniorbowl.com, currently shows all practices being held at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the site of the game. ESPN and the NFL Network, which provide extensive coverage of Senior Bowl Week, soon need to finalize their schedules, equipment needs and budgets for covering practices, Lehockey said.
Both the city of Mobile and Mobile County contribute to the event. This year the city budgeted $152,300 and the county $165,000. An economic study released last year showed the event generates between $27 million and $28 million for the city and between $350,000 and $450,000 in Baldwin County, Lehockey said.
The Senior Bowl also holds a free football camp for youngsters and a season kickoff party for Fairhope High School and Bayside Academy, he said. He said it was too soon to know what would happen to those events.
“We’ve been going to Fairhope for at least a couple of decades,” Lehockey said. “We didn’t really feel it was fair for Mobile to pay money to support the Senior Bowl and we’re getting nothing from Fairhope.”
But council members questioned the economic value of the practice, with some saying the players and coaches come over on buses and go straight back to Mobile when the practice is over. Most people attending the event stay in Mobile or possibly Daphne. At the same time, the city maintains the football stadium to a standard high enough to handle a college event, they said.
“They don’t have any research to back up what they’re saying,” Lehockey responded.
City officials also said that after the Senior Bowl requested last year’s contribution, its leaders were told to apply this year in June along with other agencies and organizations during Fairhope’s budgeting process. The city heard nothing until recently, they said.
The Senior Bowl spokesman said last year’s request was made in September and this year’s was made about a month ago. He acknowledged that organizers were later with their request this year.