SBJ/April 11-17, 2011/Opinion

Fiesta Bowl’s scandal touches so many groups

What they're saying

Rarely am I stunned by a local news headline. I’m jaded, I guess, after 30 years in the news business here. I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff and nutty people come and go over that time.

But news of the Fiesta Bowl’s investigation and subsequent firing of president and CEO John Junker hit me like a cold slap in the face.

The Fiesta Bowl is an Arizona institution. It’s been around since 1971, long before the Cardinals, Coyotes or Diamondbacks arrived. With the Suns and the Cactus League, the bowl put Arizona on the sports map. Images of sunny Arizona in January shown to TV viewers worldwide filled the tourism pipeline. It is a powerful economic engine, accounting for billions of dollars in economic impact over the years.

For the better part of its existence, it was run by Junker, who had developed a sound reputation as a good business leader and community supporter. He earned the respect of his peers here and across the country. He took the bowl from a dusty startup to a BCS powerhouse.

Four decades of progress was shattered in an instant, after a scathing report released by the bowl shows apparent violations of campaign financing laws and abusive and outlandish spending on personal items that defy imagination.

This story is just at the beginning, and who knows where it ends. No matter how you cut it, it’s a sad story.

• Sad for the volunteers. Thousands of people over the years have given up lots of their time to make the bowl work. The bowl could not exist without them. Now they’ve been betrayed. You have to wonder: Will they stick around through all this mess?

• Sad for the board — especially those members who are criticizing Junker now. If not sad, perhaps mad. A nonprofit board’s primary function is to provide the organization with proper governance and financial oversight. If Junker’s abuses are true, you have to wonder where the board members were during that time. They have a role in this mess, too.

• Sad for the business community. If you look at the Fiesta Bowl Committee and the board over the years, it’s a who’s who of business heavyweights. They’ve all invested in making the bowl successful. How will this affect their willingness to give time and money in the future?

• Sad for Glendale. They’re in a fight to the finish to keep the Coyotes. Now they may lose the economic impact that goes with the Fiesta Bowl’s BCS status. It could slip to an also-ran bowl and never host a national championship game again — and that’s assuming it even exists in the future.

• Sad for Arizona’s reputation. As if we haven’t given people across the country enough already to scratch their heads and wonder about, this comes roaring out of the blue, making headlines from coast to coast.

No winners in this Fiesta Bowl story. We can only hope it’s not the final chapter.

Don Henninger (dhenninger@bizjournals.com) is publisher of the Phoenix Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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