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Pigskin’s Future Is Up in Air : Football: Aug. 29 game may be last in Anaheim if Disney doesn’t renew sponsorship.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Disneyland Pigskin Classic football game, which has been marked by appealing matchups but lackluster crowds, might be making its final appearance in Anaheim Stadium Aug. 29.

Disneyland’s five-year contract to sponsor the event expires after this year’s game between Fresno State and Ohio State, and “it’s just very unlikely they’ll renew it,” said Orange County Sports Assn. Executive Director Don Andersen, whose group promotes the game.

Retired Disneyland President Jack Lindquist, who has been the driving force behind the game and is still highly active as a company consultant, said he’s “not real optimistic” that Disneyland will extend the deal. He said an announcement would be made after the game.

“Overall the game hasn’t lived up to our expectations,” Lindquist said. “We think we’ve put some outstanding games together with some of the top teams in the country . . . but maybe the timing of the game isn’t good. Maybe it’s too early (in the season) for people to be thinking about college football. We’re taking a long look at it.”

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The late August game has featured highly ranked teams such as Florida State, Colorado and Tennessee, but has attracted an average of 39,093 fans in 69,000-seat Anaheim Stadium.

The 1993 USC-North Carolina matchup, John Robinson’s debut in his second stint as Trojan coach, drew the largest crowd (49,309) of the four games, and the upcoming Fresno State-Ohio State game is expected to do well at the gate.

Without a major title sponsor to replace Disneyland’s $1 million annual commitment, Andersen said Anaheim would not be able to play host to the game. But that wouldn’t preclude another city or sponsor continuing the event.

Officials from the National Assn. of College Directors of Athletics, which owns the rights to the game, and the American Football Coaches Assn. Retirement Trust, which receives some proceeds from the game, have been discussing contingency plans.

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“If (Disneyland) pulls out, we’ll have the game at another place and site,” said Mike Cleary, executive director of Cleveland-based NACDA. “We’ve had feelers from other cities and sponsors, but we can’t talk to them because it’s not official.”

Andersen stressed that the Freedom Bowl, a post-season college football game played in Anaheim Stadium in December, would not be affected.

Though the NCAA in July vetoed the Walt Disney Co.'s proposal to make Orange County the permanent site for an NCAA Division I-A national championship football game, Lindquist and Andersen said the company will continue to pursue that event, which would include a week-long tribute to artists, musicians and scholars.

“The NCAA said a national championship game is probably three or four years away, but they also said they love Disney’s whole idea,” Andersen said. “We’ve had ongoing discussions with ABC, and they’ve told us they want to be a partner in such an event.”

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The lack of a network television contract may have hurt the Pigskin game. Raycom pays about $600,000 annually for television rights, but networks normally pay in excess of $1 million, and sometimes substantially more, for college bowl games.

Andersen also has had problems recently attracting top-notch teams. Some highly rated schools don’t want to risk a possible national championship by playing a difficult opponent in the first game. Notre Dame has turned down several invitations.

Other big-name schools don’t want to risk losing to a school that doesn’t have a great national reputation but is capable of an upset. Andersen had an oral agreement from Nebraska officials to play Fresno State this year, but the Cornhuskers pulled out after the team voted not to accept the invitation.

“It seems like we’ve had difficulty getting the top teams, but I still think we’ve had quality teams in each game,” Andersen said. “The eight teams who have played went on to win 85% of their games during that season, and all eight went to post-season bowl games.”

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But the game hasn’t been the box-office success that Disneyland hoped it would be. The first game in 1990, pitting eventual national co-champion Colorado against Tennessee, which was eighth in the final Associated Press poll, may have served as a warning when it drew only 33,458.

In 1991, a high-powered Florida State team, which finished fourth in the final poll, and Brigham Young with Ty Detmer drew only 38,363.

“You’d think games like that would sell out,” Andersen said. “The game, while successful, has not been a rousing success. Perhaps the time and market isn’t right for a preseason college football game here.”

Not a Top Draw

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The Disneyland Pigskin Classic college football game has never drawn more than 71.5% of capacity in Anaheim Stadium, which seats about 69,000 for football:

Year Result Attendance 1990 Colorado 31, Tennessee 31 33,458 1991 Florida State 44, Brigham Young 28 38,363 1992 Texas A&M; 10, Stanford 7 35,240 1993 North Carolina 31, USC 9 49,309


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