Talk about a tough year for sports in Orange County.

The Angels were in last place when the baseball season ended prematurely in August. Later that month the final Disneyland-Pigskin Classic was played at Anaheim Stadium. In November the news broke about the county going bankrupt. Now it's December and the speculation is high that the Los Angeles Rams will be playing their final game here today before relocating to St. Louis next year.And the Freedom Bowl? The news isn't much better for the bowl game, which has been played at Anaheim Stadium for the past decade.

With no title sponsor, no major television contract and a $750,000 payout, the minimum allowed by the NCAA, the Freedom Bowl has been on shaky ground for years.

"This is a very tough market," said Don Anderson, the executive director of the Freedom Bowl. "I think we're typical of a half dozen of the smaller bowl games."

As for the participants of Tuesday's bowl game, Utah and Arizona, Freedom Bowl officials couldn't be more pleased. They have teams ranked 14th and 15th in the A.P. poll, which according to Anderson, is the best of any previous Freedom Bowl game.

"We're real pleased with the matchup. We think it is the best we've ever had," said Anderson. "A 9-2 team is equal to the best we've ever had and someone said this is that fifth-best bowl matchup in terms of ranked teams (a Deseret News column made that claim last month)."

The problem for the Freedom Bowl is attracting fans and media interest in the game. Anderson is expecting a crowd in the "mid-30s," which would be a little below the average for the past 10 years and about half the capacity of the stadium. Last year 49,000 fans were on hand for the Utah-USC game and 58,000 came to see the Fresno State-USC matchup the year before that.

When the bowl selection was made Nov. 20, some folks questioned the selection of Utah over BYU on the assumption that the Cougars could generate a larger fan base in southern California. But Utah has actually done very well with its ticket sales, selling just under 10,000 as of Friday afternoon, up 1,500 over sales for the 1993 Freedom Bowl.

The problem has been with Arizona. Anderson said less than 5,000 tickets have been sold in Tucson and according to a source from Arizona, the figure is considerably less than 5,000. Bryan Lee of the Tucson Citizen said that as of a week ago, only 1,100 tickets had been sold in Arizona.

"This game is quite a comedown from the Fiesta Bowl (last year's bowl game) or the Rose Bowl (where they wanted to be)," said Lee. "Since there's no glamour in this bowl, the fans just desert the ship."

Anderson calls the ticket sales in Arizona "disappointing." However ticket sales aren't the bowl's top problem.

Not having a title sponsor or a TV network to promote the game and having an NCAA-mandated payout are the biggest problems for the bowl.

"We've been working continually to get a title sponsor," said Anderson. "It's a very, very tough sell."

Anderson said it was tough on the Freedom bowl when the NCAA raised the minimum payout for each school to $750,000 from $500,000 a couple of years ago. As for TV, the Freedom Bowl is the only bowl game without a major TV network. Anderson said the biggest drawback with that is the lack of a promotional tie-in.

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"Actually we have more exposure than the bowl games on ESPN with 80 to 85 percent of the country compared to 62 percent for ESPN," said Anderson. "But it's very difficult without that promotional tie-in that they have on CBS or ESPN."

Anderson remains neither optimistic, nor pessimistic about the future of the Freedom Bowl.

"I don't know what the future of the bowl game is," he said. "We just keep plugging along. We'll just go at it one year at a time."

UTE NOTES: The Ute players and coaches, along with their counterparts from Arizona were feted at the Rotary Lunch Friday at the Marriott Hotel. Ron McBride, offensive tackle Anthony Brown and linebacker Mark Rexford spoke for the Utes, while Arizona coach Dick Tomey, running back Ontiwaun Carter and linebacker Sean Harris spoke for the Arizona side . . . Among the Washington Redskin players staying at the Marriott Hotel where the Utes are staying is Kurt Haws, who played tight end for Utah last year . . . Scouts from several pro teams, including San Diego, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville have been attending Ute practices this week. According to McBride, they're looking at "seven or eight" Ute players, Luther Elliss being the main attraction.

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