Last week, Montana State Senator Ellie Boldman requested a bill be drafted with the intent of bringing ESPN’s pregame show “College GameDay” to Montana. Ever since College GameDay premiered for Notre Dame-Florida State in 1993, the show has traveled across the US to different host schools each week during the college football season to showcase the top game of the week.
The opportunity to host College GameDay represents a signature moment in a university’s history, as the show provides major marketing value and economic benefits for the host school and its surrounding community. Multiple college sports administrators consider it a “three-hour infomercial” for the host school where viewers nationwide can learn about the university, town, and team.
The free marketing starts days before the College GameDay crew even shows up as the host team gets multiple spots on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and extra coverage from local media outlets in the week leading up to the show. Such free advertising can translate directly into revenue for the school through what is known as “The Flutie Effect” — the American phenomenon of how a dominant athletic program can translate into an increase in student applications.
Beyond the campus borders, local communities see an immediate positive economic impact as the 100-plus-person College GameDay production crew and fans from surrounding regions and opposing teams fill hotels and restaurants. The show spotlights regional businesses and restaurants as the star anchors and analysts enjoy televised tastings of local delicacies. When College GameDay visited Jackson State, College GameDay contributed to a weekend that generated an estimated $8.9 million for Jackson, Mississippi.
It is this potential economic impact that has caught the attention of lawmakers such as Montana State Senator Ellie Boldman. After the announcement of her proposed bill, Boldman stated: “The amount of money the free exposure provides for the universities featured on its program is enormous, coupled with the economic benefit for the private sector, including our hotels, restaurants, bars and related sales of game day gear. Our resolutions often show support or encouragement to movements in the private sector. Bringing ESPN College GameDay to the State of Montana is worthy of such an enthusiastic endorsement.”
However, Montana’s Missoula-based University of Montana and Bozeman-based Montana State have never been featured on College GameDay. The vast majority of College GameDay’s stops are FBS schools, particularly top Power 5 matchups. For example, Ohio State and Alabama have each hosted more than 15 times. But this year, it has embraced new locations and non-Power 5 programs – visiting three schools for the first time: Kansas, Appalachian State, and FCS Jackson State. Boldman hopes her bill will entice College GameDay to continue this trend as she stated: “It’s time for the State of Montana to be in that spotlight. ESPN has never been here before, and it is time.”
It is uncertain what exactly the bill will look like as the state government cannot simply draft a bill making it law for College GameDay to come to Montana. The bill, currently in the drafting process, would be in the form of a joint resolution and would be introduced to the state legislature at its next session in January during their bi-annual meeting. However, Boldman, who has been in the Montana Capitol since 2011, “feel[s] confident this resolution will be met with enthusiastic support” and expects to receive “the signatures of all 150 Montana State legislators” given that her “colleagues on both sides of the aisle are deeply proud of our Montana football programs.”
During the last session, Boldman successfully sponsored several bills in support of Montana’s universities’ athletic programs. In this upcoming session, Boldman also plans to introduce the Uniform College Athlete Name, Image, and Likeness Act, which provides a more comprehensive framework to the “Name, Image, Likeness” bill that she sponsored in the last session, which is now the law in Montana. Boldman stated that the proposed ‘College Gameday Bill’ will also serve to support the efforts of the Uniform NIL law, as it intends to further bolster Montana student-athletes in the revenue associated with their NIL. According to Boldman, “our student-athletes deserve our support.”