Today the college football bowl season kicks off right here in Horry County with the inaugural Myrtle Beach Bowl.
The Appalachian State Mountaineers from the Sun Belt Conference will face the Mean Green of North Texas from Conference USA. Both teams accepted their bowl bids on Dec. 13.
"I am most excited for the game itself, obviously," said Rachel Quigley, executive director of the Myrtle Beach Bowl.
Quigley noted that this year has been "challenging" and has placed some "unique roadblocks" in the way. Nevertheless, the Myrtle Beach Bowl will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and so will the 2020-21 college bowl season.
One challenge stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic is attendance. Across the country, states are limiting the number of fans at athletic events. In South Carolina, just 25% capacity for sporting events is allowed.
Quigley noted the success of Coastal Carolina’s attendance with the 5,000-spectator cap and how that played a vital role in moving forward with this game.
“That’s helped in our community to see fans go there and be at the games with minimal health and safety risks,” Quigley said.
In a typical bowl season, the teams would arrive a week before, spend time out in the community, and take in all the sights and sounds of the host city. With COVID-19, that is not the case.
While the bowl week festivities are pretty much nonexistent this year, there is still a pretty penny coming the area's way.
Jonathan Paris, executive director of sports tourism for Visit Myrtle Beach, estimates that the Myrtle Beach Bowl will have a $1 million economic impact on the community.
“It certainly helps making up a little bit of the difference from losing the Myrtle Beach Invitational,” Paris said, referencing the basketball tournament that was scheduled to be played at the HTC Center on Coastal's campus. It was canceled because of the pandemic.
Paris also noted that the Myrtle Beach Bowl comes at a time when local businesses need revenue.
“Part of the reason why we are partnering with ESPN Events for the bowl game and for basketball is because it’s traditionally a more slower period for the area,” Paris said. “We are past the heavy beach season and we are not into golf season yet, so we’ve made the investment in supporting these events because they’re going to create actual tourism for the community.”
While this is the first major postseason sporting event held at Brooks Stadium since the 2015 FCS playoffs, the university itself is no stranger to hosting big events.
The HTC Center has hosted various basketball tournaments from the Big South Conference tournaments from 2013 to 2015, the 2017 ACC women’s basketball tournament, the 2017 Puerto Rico Tip-Off and for the last two years the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
Just down the road at Springs Brooks Stadium, the university hosted the 2019 Sun Belt baseball tournament. And right across the street in 2017, the men’s soccer team hosted the 2017 Sun Belt tournament.
Local leaders have focused on growing sports tourism.
Paris credits the rise of postseason athletic tournaments in Horry County over the last 10 years with Coastal Carolina University.
“None of these events would’ve been possible without the investment that Coastal Carolina has put into its sports facilities,” Paris said.
Paris praised the university's most recent expansion at Brooks Stadium to 21,000, noting that particular enhancement was crucial in working with ESPN Events to secure the Myrtle Beach Bowl.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced bowl games such as the Sun Bowl, the Pinstripe Bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl to cancel their events.
“We feel pretty fortunate that our bowl wasn't canceled and is happening,” Paris said.
Tickets for the inaugural Myrtle Beach ball went on sale at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Within the hour, they were sold out.
In a pandemic, it can be difficult to promote certain events, especially some of the “lower profile“ bowls. However, two men on the SEC Network have long been talking about this event: Marty Smith and Ryan McGee of the popular show "Marty and McGee". Smith was the sideline reporter for Coastal Carolina‘s matchup against Appalachian state on Nov. 21. McGee was on the sidelines for what could be called the “game of the year“ in college football when Coastal beat No. 8 BYU 22-17 on Dec. 5.
“They have been on the Coastal/Myrtle Beach bandwagon early,” Paris said. “Having them talk about this stuff on the SEC Network, we all know football is king in the South. That's something that raises the exposure of Myrtle Beach in those markets.”
Last month, the two television personalities discussed the possibility of calling the Myrtle Beach Bowl. This afternoon, Marty and McGee, along with Courtney Lyle and Eric MacLain, will be calling the inaugural Myrtle Beach Bowl, according to Barrett Sports Media.
The first ever Myrtle Beach Bowl will feature a regular visitor to Brooks Stadium in Appalachian State, a rival of Coastal Carolina. North Texas will be making its first trip to South Carolina since the 2010 season opener for the Mean Green when they played at Clemson. While North Texas is now a member of Conference USA, the Mean Green were a part of the inaugural Sun Belt football conference in 2001. Appalachian State joined the Sun Belt in 2014.
This will be the Mountaineers' second trip to Conway in 2020 and they hope to have a better outcome than the prior visit, falling 34-23 to CCU on Nov. 21. After a 6-1 start to the season, Appalachian State has gone 2-2 over the last four games.
On the other side of the field, North Texas started off the year 1-4 but has since gone 3-2 and will enter the Myrtle Beach Bowl with a record of 4-6. This will be the third time in its history that North Texas will go into a bowl game with a losing record.
While the stadium capacity might be limited, it is a known fact that Appalachian State fans travel well.
Even if there is more black and yellow than green at Brooks Stadium, Paris said the reason why Myrtle Beach is a great place to host a bowl game is because the area is already a popular destination.
“Those North Texas fans are able to come and experience Myrtle Beach, a place that’s probably not on their list of places to go and visit,” Paris said. “We are exposing a whole other part of the country to the Myrtle Beach brand. Hopefully, some of them will come out here and watch their team and come back on vacation next summer.”