Shreveport bowl to critics: Welcome, y'all

Bowl games in other cities get more press, and more positive press, but for 35 years the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., has worked hard to celebrate its invited teams. Bowl executive director Missy Setters tells how.

Our bowl is all about hospitality. We know we don’t have a beach to sell, but the players and coaches who come here are the center of attention for our community. We want them to feel that they are embraced by our community rather than just here for a football game.

To ensure they have a good time, we have a huge bowl committee who does everything they can.

We set up a gift suite on each team’s campus. Players are given a point system, and they can pick out what they want from 100 items. A lot of these guys already have electronics, so they’d rather have something else. The biggest item is a logo recliner. It’s oversized so even the linemen can relax in it.

When the teams get here, our host committee puts on hospitality rooms that are at the beck and call of the student-athletes, and school administrators.

They can shuttle to the Louisiana Boardwalk, similar to what they have in Destin, Fla. -- shopping, restaurants and movies. It’s fun and safe.

We’ll bring in vans with video games for the players. We’ll rent a bowling alley on Christmas Eve, and each team will have a few hours there to relax.

With our bowl on Dec. 27, some teams have their private event for Christmas. For others we coordinate what they need.

We are a pretty tight-knit community. Our sister city, Bossier City, is across the Red River, as is Barksdale Air Force Base, home to the majority of the B-52 bombers.

Our bowl’s economic impact for Shreveport is $15 million to $25 million, which is huge for us. Our economy has not suffered as drastically as some areas because we are on top of one of the largest shales of natural gas in the country.

Our bowl has been through some difficulties in recent years because our former title sponsor didn’t pay. Financially, we are getting back on our feet. Stepping up as our new title partner has been AdvoCare, a direct-sales company for health-and-wellness products, started by the late Charlie Ragus and led by Richard H. Wright, both from Shreveport.

We’re the 11th oldest bowl game in the country. That says something for our community and the 400-plus members of our bowl foundation. We do this for the right reasons -- to focus on the student-athletes. It’s a passion for us. It’s something personal. There’s a sense of pride.

Longevity does speak. Once we get a team here, we can change an old opinion or help form a new one based on how well we treat the teams and their fans.

-- Reported by Michelle Hiskey for the AJC