It’s already considered one of the biggest sporting events to hit the Valley every year.
But this season, there’s added anticipation.
When Clemson University and Ohio State University meet at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on Dec. 28, the winner gets its ticket punched to the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship in New Orleans on Jan. 7.
But Scottsdale is already a winner in the big game economically.
Both teams stay in Scottsdale hotels and practice at schools in the city. And the two bars that are more or less official hangouts for Tiger and Buckeye fans are located in Scottsdale.
A 20-year contract between the Fiesta Bowl and Experience Scottsdale makes the city the officially home for the two teams during their stay for the game. Both teams, bands, fans and media stay at two of the hotels in Scottsdale or Paradise Valley.
“Each year, the bowl games bring incredible exposure to the Scottsdale-area, introducing thousands of visiting fans and corporate sponsors to Scottsdale’s offerings,” said Stephanie Pressler, the director of community affairs for Experience Scottsdale.
“This opportunity comes during a need period for our local tourism industry, filling thousands of room nights and giving our hotels and resorts a much-needed boost in occupancy,” she explained, adding:
“Plus, Scottsdale hospitality businesses benefit from the influx of football fans this time of year, as those traveling with their teams explore the area’s restaurants, bars, shops and attractions before and after the games.”
This year, K O’Donnell’s Sports Bar & Grill in northern Scottsdale and Bottled Blonde in Old Town are among the big Fiesta Bowl beneficiaries.
K O’Donnell’s has been the go-to spot for Clemson alumni and fans for their weekly fix of Tiger football while Buckeye alumni and fans flock to Bottled Blonde.
“The atmosphere here is crazy every week,” said Jennifer O’Donnell, the owner of K O’Donnell’s Sports Bar & Grill.
“It also helps that Clemson is a good team that wins a lot of games,” O’Donnell added. “But we are expecting an even bigger turnout with this game.”
K O’Donnell’s, near Hayden Road and Raintree Drive in northern Scottsdale, became Tiger City when a member of the Clemson alumni group became a frequent patron. When an alumni association watch party was abruptly cancelled, the patron led the group to K O’Donnell’s.
As Clemson returns to the destination it won its first national title of the College Playoff Era, O’Donnell’s is preparing to host the national branch of the Clemson alumni association.
“They will be headquartered here,” O’Donnell said. “It will be a fun atmosphere. We are expecting things to be on another level than last year with the game here.”
K O’Donnell’s frequently holds fundraisers and raffles during the season for Clemson fans and its walls are generally outfitted with the university’s gear to make them feel at home.
Clemson fans will also have the opportunity to rally their team the day before the game on Friday, Dec. 27, at the W Scottsdale Hotel.
The Legends of Clemson Party will start there at 9 p. m. and likely bring out former Tiger greats to help rally the troops.
And the Clemson fans who can’t head over to Glendale for the game will fill K O’Donnell’s to watch it, ticket-less Buckeye fans will be doing the same 11 miles south at Bottled Blonde.
“These fans are unbelievable. They come every week,” said Charlie Brooks, general manager of Bottled Blonde. “I mean, they come for the Rutgers and the Maryland games where those teams are getting blown out by 60. Even then, we still have as many as 250 people every week and it’s the same that have been coming the last five years.”
As a bartender at a now-defunct bar, Brooks had formed a relationship with Kevin Fox, then president of the Ohio State Alumni Club of Phoenix.
In 2014, Brooks moved to Bottled Blonde – and Fox and the rest of the Ohio State alumni followed.
“We try to create a family atmosphere,” Brooks said. “All of our bartenders know everyone by name. After every touchdown we are throwing out Jell-O shots and everyone does the ‘O-H’ chant. It really is awesome.”
Brooks and the rest of the Bottled Blonde staff have thought about hosting a rally outside of Bottled Blonde on Friday, Dec. 27, the day before Ohio State’s game against Clemson.
A similar rally in past years has drawn as many as 3,000 Ohio State fans.
If Bottled Blonde holds a similar rally this year, Brooks said that number could easily double. He won’t decide one way or another on the rally until sometime this week.
“It’s like you’re literally in Columbus, Ohio,” Brooks said. “This is I think by far the best atmosphere for die-hard Ohio State fans.”
It’s not just the fans of Clemson and Ohio State that will be taking over Scottsdale this week – the teams will too.
The Tigers and Buckeyes are scheduled to arrive in Phoenix today, Dec. 22. On Christmas Eve, both teams will hold their first practice,
Ohio State, a frequent Fiesta Bowl presence, will practice at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale for the duration of their stay in the Valley. Clemson, meanwhile, will take to the field at Saguaro High School.
“The last two years we had LSU and Penn State here,” said Mark Cisterna, Notre Dame Prep’s athletic director. “The year before I got here, we had Urban Meyer and Ohio State.
“It’s pretty cool, the Fiesta Bowl comes in and overseeds our practice fields in October. We have to basically shut it down, none of our teams are able to use it until after the Fiesta Bowl,” he added, “They overseed it, fertilize it and paint it.”
This is the fourth year of an eight-year contract between Notre Dame Prep and the Fiesta Bowl Committee to host one of the bowl teams.
The campus is shut down for the week the team uses the facility. Luckily, it comes during a time when students are on Christmas break because no Notre Dame team is allowed on campus during that time.
While Ohio State uses Notre Dame’s facilities, Clemson will practice at nearby Saguaro High School.
The 2019 Fiesta Bowl kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 28 at 6 p.m. from State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
The winner of the game between second-ranked Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson will face the winner of the Peach Bowl between top-ranked LSU and No. 4 Oklahoma.