Deja Vu: The Holiday Bowl Promises to be a Premier Experience

In its second attempt, Petco Park is gearing up to host the first college football game in downtown San Diego.
SDCCU Holiday Bowl president Cherry Park announces the participants in this year’s college football game to be held in downtown San Diego.

The SDCCU Holiday Bowl is back for its second try at holding the first-ever college football game at downtown San Diego’s Petco Park. 

A sea of red sports coat-clad boosters gathered at bayside Coasterra restaurant on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, awaiting the official word on the matchup for this year’s game, scheduled for Dec. 28 and set to air nationally at 5 p.m. on FOX-TV.

Few at the announcement gathering talked about a sense of deja-vu.

Along with curiosity about this year’s pairing (the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Oregon Ducks were revealed as participants), there was optimism in the air, alongside unanswerable big-picture questions about the future of the NCAA bowl game structure.

In 2021, downtown’s Petco Park was slated to be hold the Holiday Bowl for the first time in its 42-game history. Located in East Village, Petco Park is the home baseball field for the San Diego Padres.

Just hours before the start of last year’s Holiday Bowl, the UCLA Bruins pulled out of the game due to COVID-19 protocols. UCLA’s scheduled opponent had been North Carolina State University.

During the 2021 run-up to the bowl-game-that-wasn’t, Holiday Bowl executive director Mark Neville had said moving to a downtown venue was a “complete game-changer,” and predicted, “we’ll have the best bowl experience in the country.”

Reminded of Neville’s statement from a year ago, this year’s Holiday Bowl board president, Cherry Park, says she stands by that claim for this year.

“He’s not wrong about that,” says Park, whose full-time job is as a marketing executive at tech giant Qualcomm. 

The configuration of Petco Park for the 2021 Holiday Bowl that wasn’t to be.

Holiday Bowl staffers believe the downtown San Diego setting is a perfect staging area for the pageantry of all the game’s related events.

During the night of Dec. 27, downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter will host a family-friendly street party. And the annual Battle of the Bands–a face-off between the two bowl game college bands–will close city streets near Market Street and Fifth Avenue.

On the morning of the game, the Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade will feature the largest procession of balloon characters in the United States.

At the conclusion of the football game, the 101.5 KGB Sky Show will fill the downtown skyline with fireworks.

Can holding the game in downtown San Diego become an annual tradition? That possibility got cloudy this year.

The Holiday Bowl signed a five-year contract to play at Petco Park. Previously, the games were played at now-demolished Qualcomm Stadium.

Some believed Petco would become a permanent home to the game, even after the five-year contract.

Now, no one has a definitive answer about the long-term future of the game, for two reasons:

  1. San Diego State University now has its own new football facility, the 35,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium. It seems unlikely the bowl game would leave Petco for Snapdragon, but a recent move by the NCAA could affect that decision.
  1. The NCAA just voted to bump up the start date for its new national championship tournament format. Beginning in the 2024-25 season, the format will increase from four to 12 teams. Dates for non-championship bowl games like the Holiday Bowl will need to be re-examined.

“We’re keeping an eye on everything that is happening in the college football playoffs system,” Park says. “We’ll see how it goes. We’re just excited to have a game in 2022. We had a big ‘dress rehearsal’ last year and it looked beautiful.”

For ticket information, go to: Holiday Bowl.


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