San Diego’s college football bowl extravaganza is moving to downtown’s Petco Park for the first time in the 42-game history of the event.
A preeminent event experience is being promised.
“Moving the game and all the events downtown is a complete game-changer,” says Mark Neville, CEO of the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. “We’ll have the best bowl experience in the country.”
The 2021-22 college football bowl schedule begins December 17 and includes a record 44 games.
Neville’s worked for the Holiday Bowl for 30 years, and he’s passionate about the switch to an urban setting.
“At first, when we started thinking about this a few years ago, I thought it was a little weird to play football at a baseball park,” he says. “But it’s a perfect fit and it’s exciting—not just for fans of the game but for all the pageantry of Holiday Bowl events.”
This year’s game takes place on December 28 and airs nationally at 5 p.m. (PT) on FOX-TV.
The matchup features UCLA (from the Pacific-12 Conference) and North Carolina State (Atlantic Coast Conference). This is the first year the ACC has participated in The Holiday Bowl.
A Whole New Game
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson in action. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
Since 1978, The Holiday Bowl had been played at Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley. Qualcomm was home to the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. After the team bolted to Los Angeles, the stadium was demolished.
San Diego State University is in the process of building a new, 35,000-seat stadium at the former Qualcomm site. The Aztecs currently play home games in Carson, near Los Angeles.
Recall that the 2020-21 bowl season was cancelled due to the pandemic.
The Holiday Bowl signed a 5-year contract to play at Petco Park. Neville believes that contract will be extended. He considers downtown and Petco Park the bowl game’s new home.
The first snap will mark the first time a football game has ever been played at the nationally lauded home field of MLB’s San Diego Padres. Petco Park has hosted music concerts, tennis matches and even rugby games, but nary a football matchup.
In fact, when an agreement was forged to hold the game at Petco Park, the San Diego City Council had to amend the site’s lease agreement, which had prohibited football games.
Holiday Bowl Festivities
Yes, the focal point is a college football game, but the Holiday Bowl comes with a full slate of activities. Major events include: an outdoor party in the Gaslamp Quarter, an ’80s themed music concert, a 5K run and America’s largest balloon parade.
“We’ll have activations all over the Gaslamp,” Neville says. “One of our organization’s primary goals is to fill hotel rooms, and we’ll definitely do that.”
He believes visitor spending this year will push the Holiday Bowl over the $1-billion mark in accumulated economic impact.
Event highlights include:
UCLA band members will compete in the Holiday Bowl Battle of the Bands. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Battle of the Bands (5 p.m.)
On Monday, A free, outdoor party in the Gaslamp Quarter kicks off with the Battle of the Bands. The marching bands from UCLA and NC State will perform a musical duel at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Market Street. (Be aware of street closures.)
Snapdragon Bowl Bash & Concert (6 p.m.)
That night, An ’80s-themed concert takes the Sycuan Stage at Gallagher Square in Petco Park. The show features A Flock of Seagulls, The English Beat, Missing Persons and Taylor Dayne. Tickets range from $40-$55. The concert benefits Rady Children’s Hospital. Get tickets here.
The Port of San Diego Balloon Parade proceeds down Harbor Drive. (Courtesy photo.)
National Funding 5K Run/Walk (9:45 a.m.)
The morning of the game, the 26th annual 5K run/walk starts downtown at the corner of Harbor Drive and Ash Street. Participants will actually precede the balloon parade and race down the Harbor Drive route past 100,000 spectators. No pressure. Register here.
Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade presented by Kaiser Permanente (10 a.m.)
The parade route runs down Harbor Drive and will include more character balloons than any other American procession. Neville says he has an intern watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to count the balloons. The Holiday Bowl then books at least one more balloon than that famous New York City parade. (Free, or, purchase grandstand tickets here.) SDSun
Cover photo: A rendering of the Petco Park field reconfigured for the Holiday Bowl. (Courtesy photo)
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