At Bahamas Bowl viewing party, Elk Grove celebrates its moment in the national spotlight

It was difficult to hear the game on the televisions. And the large crowd seemed more interested in chatting than watching college football.

Then again, those who gathered Friday at Real Time Sports in Elk Grove Village for the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl viewing party weren't there to cheer on Toledo or Florida International University.

Instead, it was a celebration of Elk Grove Village, the bowl game's sponsor.

"I'm not a huge football fan," said Debbie Buttles, who has lived in Elk Grove for 10 years. "I'm here to support the village."

The village spent $300,000 to sponsor the college football bowl game to promote its business park. "Makers Wanted" - Elk Grove's business marketing tagline - was added to the title of the bowl game.

The viewing party featured green, yellow and blue balloons - the Bahamas Bowl colors - for the crowd that numbered roughly 150 at kickoff but dwindled at halftime. Touchdowns and big plays largely went unnoticed by the partygoers, but they erupted in cheers and applause when commercials promoting Elk Grove were aired.

Viewers included residents, business leaders, village employees and elected officials.

Village Trustee Chris Prochno admitted she initially was skeptical about the sponsorship idea. After all, it's the first time a non-tourist municipality has sponsored a bowl game.

"I think when the mayor (Craig Johnson) brought the issue to us in the summer, none of us were onboard," Prochno said. "It was such a strange concept - the idea of sponsoring a college bowl in the Bahamas. It has nothing to do with us."

But Trustee Sam Lissner said he was convinced when business leaders were supportive. "If the businesses can use it in their advertising to gather customers, that's our goal," he said.

When the formal announcement was made in July, Prochno said, the village saw immediate benefits from all the media coverage.

"We were in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times," she said. "My sister in Florida heard us announced on TV. It was millions of dollars in free publicity."

Jim Carr, president and CEO of CARR Machine & Tool Inc. in Elk Grove Village, said he was surprised by the announcement. But he says it was a smart decision by the village.

"I love it because I'm a marketing guy," Carr said. "I think that PR is a good thing. You need as much exposure as you can if you want to grow your business."

So even though he wasn't interested in the outcome of Friday's game, Carr and his employees attended the viewing party to support the village and celebrate the holiday.

"We're here for the camaraderie, not the game," he said.

Prochno said the viewing party was an opportunity for residents and business leaders to enjoy the village's moment in the national spotlight.

"The mayor and village attorney are down in the Bahamas, but we're all here in Elk Grove Village," she said. "We want our community to feel a part of this whole thing."

Several Elk Grove residents said they attended to take advantage of the $5.95 half-price lunch buffet special. So it didn't matter to them that FIU beat Toledo 35-32.

"I just decided to come out and see what it's like," resident Elmer Tau said.

Meanwhile, Buttles said she hopes Elk Grove is a big winner because of Friday's game.

"I love Elk Grove," she said. "If this brings international business to Elk Grove, then that's got to be a bonus for our economy here in the village."

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Courtesy of Ben Solomon/ESPN ImagesElk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson flips the coin prior to the start of the 2018 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas on Friday, Dec. 21.
  Mark Jones and his mother, Joanne Jones, both of Elk Grove Village, eat, drink and watch the game, played between Florida International University and the University of Toledo during the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl viewing party Friday at Real Time Sports. Joe Lewnard/
Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson
  Elk Grove Village public works employee John Wesa is among those watching the village-sponsored Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl during Friday's viewing party at Real Time Sports. Joe Lewnard/
  Zeeshan Tejani, a local business owner who is on the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce board of directors, chats with friends at his table during Friday's viewing party for the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl at Real Time Sports. Elk Grove Village paid $300,000 to sponsor bowl game. Joe Lewnard/
  Elk Grove Village business people and village employees are among those gathered Friday for the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl viewing party at Real Time Sports. Joe Lewnard/
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl logo
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