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Meet the woman behind the Las Vegas Bowl

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

A storm hit town the other day. Melissa Meacham-Grossman scarcely noticed.

“I got here when it was dark, left when it was dark and then realized, ‘It must have rained,’ ” she says from her desk at her south valley office, betraying no signs of fatigue. “That’s where we’re at right now: long days. But it’s the best time of the year.”

And so it goes come December for the woman behind the Las Vegas Bowl.

As associate executive director for ESPN Events, Meacham-Grossman oversees operations, logistics and execution of the game.

A UNLV graduate who earned four varsity letters as a swimmer, Meacham-Grossman served as the university’s director of marketing from 1998 to 2005 before moving on to ESPN and the Las Vegas Bowl.

This year’s matchup is a promising one: a showdown between Fresno State and Arizona State ranked by CBSSports.com as the fifth-best matchup of the 39-game bowl slate.

And bigger things could be on the horizon: The game could move into the Raiders’ stadium once it opens in 2020.

But overseeing the Las Vegas Bowl is just one of the hats that the 44-year-old Meacham-Grossman wears.

She also handles the annual Wooden Legacy basketball tournament in Anaheim, California, the College Basketball Awards Show every April in Los Angeles and last year founded The Huddle, a Vegas-based group of local businesswomen who promote the Las Vegas Bowl and its goals.

Two days before this year’s bowl teams were announced, Meacham-Grossman took time from her hectic schedule to break down what it takes to get to kickoff and more.

Review-Journal: You’re in a somewhat unique position in that the Las Vegas Bowl takes place right at the beginning of the bowl schedule just two weeks after the end of the regular season. What are those two weeks like for you?

Meacham-Grossman: It’s crazy. We announce our teams on Sunday (after the regular season concludes) and we hit the ground running. The way it starts for us is that Monday-Tuesday the teams will come here and do a site visit. Then we’ll travel to their markets for a couple days, take a showgirl and Elvis with us to promote the city and Las Vegas. Then teams arrive (the following) Monday. It’s a busy 10 days.

The landscape of the bowl season has changed so much since the Las Vegas Bowl debuted 27 years ago. What goes into your thinking when you’re trying to distinguish this event from an increasingly crowded field?

Being the leader and being on day one is something we’re really proud of. Being on ABC to kick off bowl season is a position that we’ve enjoyed over the years, and we feel like we’ve set ourselves apart. We’ve had great matchups. We’re the 16th-oldest bowl game, so we’ve been around awhile.

Where does it all begin for you in terms of conceptualizing and putting on the event?

People say all the time, ‘You just work one day of the year.’ No, no, no. We start right away in January, recapping this year, and then our office is responsible for sponsorship sales and ticket sales, taking a look at that on a year-round basis here locally and nationally. By the time we get to April, we’re already in full-on planning. Then once football starts, we’re right back at it.

A decade ago, you ran the game from a hospital room after giving birth.

In 2008, I was obviously pregnant and had no intention of going into labor during bowl week. I planned to be here for the whole week. But you know how things happened. I ended up having an emergency C-section on the Tuesday of the arrival date of the teams, and it just so happened to be the year of the snowstorm that shut down the city. From an operations standpoint, it was a really hard thing for everyone. We weren’t ready for snow. I have a great team that works with me, and I stayed in contact with them. I did the best I could from a hospital room.

You were an athlete in college. Did you always fancy doing something in athletics?

No. My undergrad degree was in athletic training. I fully intended to go to medical school. I graduated and wanted to spend time studying for MCAT. I asked the athletic department if I could intern, just while I was coming off being an athlete, and they said, ‘Yeah, come into our corporate sales department and you can learn a few things.’ After one semester of doing that, I scrapped medical school and knew that my passion was going to be in events, particularly in sports.

What was the genesis of The Huddle?

We’ve had a Las Vegas Bowl committee since day one. Last year, we had 38 members, all leaders in the community who help with everything from sponsorship sales to being advisers to us. Looking at that over the last few years, I realized that there were only three women within the organization. So we spent a lot of time looking at the group we had there and realized that we needed to come up with a group for women, for business leaders on the female side of the market and a way for them to come and be involved in the game. So I decided to have The Huddle last year. I think we ended up with 20 people last year. Now we’re up to 30 women who have jumped in and really spent the entire year working to support the mission of the game.

Is there any one Las Vegas Bowl that stands out in particular to you?

The BYU-Utah year (2015). We sold out before we even announced our teams that year. BYU knew they were coming, and then we announced Utah. That was a really fun year. Their rivalry is so intense. There’s no better feeling than walking into a sold-out stadium.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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