Arizona Bowl executive director breaks barriers, strives for "first-class" bowl experience
Last summer, Kym Adair traded in her power high heels and business suits for red converse and athletic apparel – a career decision that was a zig instead of a zag, as she put it.
But don’t be confused, as the attire Adair now wears allows her to fulfill what she calls her “dream job” and places her in historic company.
After spending the previous 10 years working at Nova Home Loans as the senior VP of marketing and business development, Adair was selected to be the Executive Director of the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl in July, replacing Alan Young, who retired.
Adair is not only in charge of one of Tucson’s most rapidly growing attractions – the Arizona Bowl generated a $33 million economic impact in Tucson in 2017, second behind the Gem Show – but she is also recognized as one of just two female college football bowl directors in the country.
What might be an unorthodox career switch for some was a seamless decision for Adair, who has been around the Arizona Bowl since its inception in 2015. During the first couple years of the bowl, the planning site was Adair’s office suite at Nova Home Loans, where she helped oversee much of the preparations for the event.
She was also instrumental in negotiating the title contract between Nova Home Loans and the Arizona Bowl for the game’s sponsorship. When the board of the bowl asked Adair to fill the role of executive director in the summer, it was a no-brainer.
“I was ready for the challenge,” Adair said. “I didn’t have experience managing in the field of college football per say, but it was an easy segue because I had so much experience with the bowl already.”
Adair enters the realm of college football not to seek her own fame, but to continue upholding the foundation of the bowl that’s rooted in giving back to Tucson.
“To make such a huge impact in a positive way for this community, that’s a privilege. It’s a dream job,” Adair said. “I wouldn’t trade it to be able to do all of these great things in the community.”
Adair emphasizes the word community, because at its heart, the Arizona Bowl is about just that. Co-founder Ali Farhang was a linebacker at Sabino High School; Eric Rhodes, Vice President of Communications, is the head coach for Arizona men’s soccer; and Allyson Tofel, Vice President of Business Operations & Events, worked in the office of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management at UA.
Many of the employees that run the bowl game have Arizona blood invested in the event, which is part of why is the game has worked so well in such a short amount of time.
For Adair, she recognizes her unique position as one of the few women with such a high-ranking job in college sports, yet she doesn’t define herself as such.
“I’m a little conflicted about it. On one hand, my gender had nothing to do with me being prepared or ready to take on this job,” Adair said. “But on the other hand, it illustrates that the glass ceiling that some may say is in college athletics or sports across the board is being broken … I think it’s only a matter of time before you see more women entering the executive director roles, the athletic director roles and hopefully someday a conference commissioner role.”
Adair has set a lofty goal for the bowl that even UA athletic director Dave Heeke hasn’t been able to accomplish for Wildcats games: sell out Arizona Stadium. Attendance for the bowl game reached just over 40,000 in 2017, of a capacity of 56,000. It’s expected to be around that mark again this year.
So how does she plan do one day reach that goal? Turn the football game into a football festival.
“We need Tucson to understand the value that this game brings to the community through charity, through the terrific experience for our heroes and our teams, and the economic impact,” Adair said.
From the hospitality each team receives, to tailgates, to pre- and post-game concerts, Adair aims to provide a “first-class experience” for everyone involved. And once you get a taste of what Tucson has to offer for a December bowl game, she feels that you’ll keep coming back for more.
“People that come to this game want to come back every year, because we are able to provide such a fun experience,” Adair said.
Saturday’s game will be the climax of what Adair and her team have been building for since July: a grand community event with a football game sandwiched in the middle.
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