In Pasadena, Transferring the Rose Bowl Makes For Uncommon Rancor

In Pasadena, Moving the Rose Bowl Makes For Unusual Rancor

Many people know posh Pasadena, California, if only from New Year’s TV, when they wake up to the palm-lined rose parade on Colorado Boulevard or stir from a soccer stupor long enough to admire the Technicolor sunset San Gabriel Mountains behind the Rose Bowl Stadium.

In the last few days, however, the patrician hearts of the community have been awakened and the white gloves have been removed.

The Rose Bowl Game, a gem so valued for trademark registration, has been kidnapped, usurped, and taken away with the kind of mischievous disregard for tradition that would otherwise only be seen in Pasadena with a protected paper bark tree Flax leaves are felled.

The coronavirus pandemic resulted in the Rose Parade being canceled in July, but the Rose Bowl game was to be played without fans until college football playoff leaders rescheduled the semi-finals between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Notre Dame on Friday because local health guidelines would forbid families of gamers from participating.

The game was transplanted to Arlington, Texas and continues to be referred to as the Rose Bowl Game – even if the usual bucolic Arroyo Seco setting is traded for a parking lot.

That outrage came after a heated hearing in which the city, which shares a trademark for the name of the game with the Tournament of Roses Association, considered going to court before reaching a $ 2 million settlement with the nonprofit on Wednesday Association that sold the rights to the game to ESPN and the College Football Playoffs.

“The soccer game belongs to the city of Pasadena and the people of Pasadena,” said the city’s newly-elected mayor, Victor Gordo, attorney and longtime councilor who led negotiations with the rose tournament.

What worries Gordo and others in Pasadena is the precedent for the Rose Bowl to be played elsewhere. It happened once before in 1942, when the game moved from Pearl Harbor to Durham, NC weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But college football was a quaint amateur company then, not the multi-billion dollar monster it is today.

And while the city has a contract with the Tournament of Roses through 2048 and its other tenant, UCLA, through 2044, fears reign that the 99-year-old stadium – even with a recent $ 182 million renovation – will be lost – dollars and its status as a National Historic Landmark – could be out of date, as others like the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl were when they lost their bowls of the same name.

That turmoil became more real with the opening of the $ 5 billion SoFi stadium in September.

“You’re competing with a new stadium here in Los Angeles,” said Bill Thomson, former mayor and board member of the Rose Bowl Operating Company, whose law firm designed the city’s trademark protection. “If you don’t enforce the trademark now, someone else can come along and use it and it will be the beginning of the end for exclusive rights to the trademark.”

Such a feeling often finds a more receptive audience in Pasadena than in many other California communities. Conservation has a strong ethos with centuries-old artisan houses that have been carefully preserved and more than 100 species of trees protected.

“Pasadena is a very self-conscious city,” said Wayne Hunt, a graphic designer who teaches at the city’s ArtCenter College of Design. “Every time we move a tree, you have to have a meeting.”

And the football stadium in a ravine is much more than just an exercise and recreation center. “Even people who don’t like football love the Rose Bowl as a place,” said Hunt.


Apr. 31, 2020, 10:44 am ET

The Rose Bowl Game is one of the few sporting events – including the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 – whose identity is tied to a location, Hunt said. This connection has value, as a brand like the Red Cross or Apple even goes beyond a well-known logo. But it’s fragile.

“That’s why you wouldn’t move the Rose Parade to Oklahoma City,” he said.

The brand value that the Rose Bowl game draws more viewers than any other non-playoff game doesn’t just matter to Pasadena. This explains why the College Football Playoffs and ESPN, which are paying more than $ 80 million for the broadcast rights, pushed for the Rose Bowl name to remain associated with the game this year.

“We recognize that long-term relationships are important and that the long-term perspective must be more important than the short-term,” said David Eads, executive director of the Tournament of Roses. “Our relationship with the College Football Playoffs and ESPN is important.”

Eads said the college football playoffs used a force majeure clause in their contract with the Tournament of Roses to move the Rose Bowl on December 19, shortly after Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly threatened to boycott the game because parents were not admitted. The rose tournament appealed to the state to allow live viewers – it proposed allowing 400 family members to enter the 90,888-seat stadium – but was rejected.

(Eads declined to detail the force majeure clause and Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoffs, didn’t return a call for comment.)

In the press release announcing the change, the Rose Tournament said it had not yet been determined whether to keep the Rose Bowl name for the game. Eads, who led the negotiations with the city, said in an interview on Wednesday that the club is perfectly entitled to put a clause in its contract with Pasadena to allow the name to be used in unusual circumstances.

“I don’t think we realize this was force majeure,” Eads said, adding that the nearby Huntington Memorial Hospital informed the Tournament of Roses a few weeks ago that it was Covid-19 – Cases became so overloaded that it would not be able to accommodate a player seriously injured in the game.

But Gordo said the force majeure invocation was fabricated and that state restrictions on fans who cannot attend have been in place since March. He noted that the Tournament of Roses statement was released on December 19 when Stanford and UCLA were playing a game at the Rose Bowl with no fans in attendance.

“Force majeure is an act of God,” said Gordo. “The only thing that changed was that the Notre Dame coach and other coaches wanted fans. This is not a force majeure. “

Negotiations, which began in videoconferencing, shifted from peer-to-peer discussions to lawyers emailing suggestions back and forth, said Gordo, who was also upset that the Rose Bowl Game logo was being used on ESPN promotions while negotiating the game stood in the background during interviews and press releases. Paying the city $ 2 million will help offset a $ 11.5 million bond that the city had to cover because the revenue from the Rose Bowl stadium was weighed down by the pandemic.

Gordo declined to say whether the city council’s discussion of legal action, which was listed on a closed session agenda for the negotiation, was tied to a clause that “monetary damage alone would be insufficient” and victim of a violation only asked to apply for a court order.

“All of the city’s options have been carefully considered,” said Gordo. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Such a dispute is extremely rare in Pasadena.

Richard Chinen, past president of the Rose Tournament, said the city’s island location generally fosters a collegial, collaborative environment in civil affairs. And in the case of the Rose Bowl, it helps that many know the origin of the stadium – it was built by volunteers and later given to the city.

Still, he understood the burden. “It’s a harmonious relationship, but Covid has hit us all sideways,” said Chinen.

There seems to be a consensus point that should be reinforced during Friday’s TV broadcast if a green bowl at the foot of sun-kissed mountains is missing from the picture: that a rose bowl isn’t so cute in another location.