Starr Rides to Freedom Bowl Rescue : Last-Day Scramble Secures Necessary Loans, Donations

Times Staff Writer

Friday was a frenzied day for Tom Starr, executive director of the Freedom Bowl. The future of this year’s game--and the bowl itself--was at stake.

Only some last-minute running around town to pick up loans and donations saved the bowl from passing into history.

“I got everything done,” Starr said Friday evening. “I feel like Indiana Jones--it went down to the last minute.”

The City of Anaheim and its Visitors and Convention Bureau handed Starr $250,000 in interest-free loans Friday. Four corporations donated a combined $125,000 to keep the Freedom Bowl afloat, he said.


Earlier this week, Starr, backed by some of Orange County’s largest corporations, went before the Anaheim City Council to ask for an interest-free loan to pay the universities of Washington and Colorado a combined $527,000 for their participation in last year’s game. If bowl officials had missed Monday’s payment deadline--which had been extended from March 30--the NCAA would no longer have sanctioned the game.

In the red about $1.1 million, Starr had told council members that the fate of the December football game rested in their hands. Saying the bowl added to the city’s tourism industry and image, the council Tuesday unanimously consented to the request. Two of the five-member council either are on the 1986 board of directors or advisers list.

Shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, the City Council convened during a special meeting to grant final approval to a $125,000 loan. The Anaheim Visitors and Convention Bureau gave the debt-plagued bowl another $125,000.

But before getting the two city checks, Starr had to do some running around town to pick up other contributions to meet the $527,000 payment. In the city agreement, a clause said that the $125,000 loan was contingent upon the receipt of other funds, gifts and contributions totaling $402,000--or the remainder needed to meet the $527,000 payment--by Monday.


With $142,000 already in hand, Starr visited three corporations Friday morning and picked up a combined $100,000 in gifts.

“As soon as you get $402,000 we’ll give you a check,” City Atty. Jack L. White told Starr after the brief council meeting Friday afternoon.

Starr stopped off at another business in the afternoon to collect $25,000, got the $125,000 from the convention bureau and, finally, returned to City Hall for its $125,000.

“It’s been a long day,” Starr said, adding that the payments were sent to the universities Friday.


The Freedom Bowl has suffered financially since its first game in 1984, when heavy rains kept many fans away and a television contract ended in a lawsuit. The bowl has been trying to break even ever since, Starr said.

“We know you’re going to make a success out of it,” Anaheim Mayor Don Roth told bowl officials Friday. “We want to show you have the support of the city.”

Bowl officials said they have worked in the past year to expand bowl support from an Anaheim level to a countywide level, changing the board of directors from a “Who’s Who in Anaheim” to a “Who’s Who in Orange County.”

The directors include Mike Bullis of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Bill Bell of AirCal in Newport Beach and Frank King of Titan Capital Corp. in Tustin. The 1986 advisers are Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates, state Sen. John Seymour, county Supervisor Ralph Clark, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Marion Knott and Roth, who was listed on the board of directors in 1984 and 1985.


Bowl officials are optimistic about breaking even this year--for the first time. Although, as of March 31, the corporation reported that it had spent $668,419 more than it has generated in revenues, officials estimate a surplus of $26,255 following the 1986 Freedom Bowl.

Kevin Forth, Freedom Bowl president, said steps taken to ensure a “blueprint for success” include signing a new television contract, hiring a public relations firm and attracting corporate sponsorship. Sponsors include national companies and some of the largest firms in the county, such as the Irvine Co., Pacific Bell, Disneyland and Coca-Cola USA. (Starr declined to give the names of the companies that came to the rescue Friday with checks.)

The bowl’s board members also commit themselves to $10,000 each. Members, such as Anaheim Mayor Pro Tem Irv Pickler, can sell up to $10,000 worth in tickets and other packages or make up the difference themselves, Starr said.

The city attorney said both Pickler and Roth could vote on the loan issue last Tuesday and did not have to declare a conflict of interest because of the corporation’s nonprofit status.


Another board member is Bill Snyder of the Anaheim Visitors and Convention Bureau. According to Snyder, about $6.6 million came into the city during the 1985 game, which attracted almost 31,000 fans and had 6,878 no-shows. The 1984 game drew 24,093 fans and had about 6,000 no-shows.

Snyder said that increased ticket sales and subsequent visitors to Anaheim hotels, attractions and other businesses are expected to generate about $10.5 million for the city this year. So far, about 19,000 tickets to the 1986 Freedom Bowl have been sold, Starr said.