Ryan Oppelt, the executive director of the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, has been involved with football since his days with the St. Helena Carpy Gang, a youth organization in the Napa Valley.
He was the starting quarterback at St. Helena High School and was named to the All-Superior California Athletic League team for the Saints.
“I loved my experience playing when I was younger with all of my best friends who we had grown up with. I just liked that competition,” Oppelt told the Napa Valley Register in 2006. “I’ve always had that desire to want to win and compete and see people making great plays and be a part of that and congratulate them and motivate them. I just think it’s an incredible game. It’s so exciting. It has shaped my life. I think you learn a lot of very good lessons from it, as well.
“I love the game, I love the camaraderie, and I love the passion.”
Oppelt has worked for several different companies over the years, including First Down Promotions, Fox Sports Net Bay Area, Fox’s Under the Helmet, IMG, and sportsuniversity.com.
It’s football – college football, in particular – that is near and dear to his heart.
“There’s nothing like it,” he said earlier this month. “I love the pageantry and all the traditions that college football brings. There’s something about it. I just think it connects generations.”
Oppelt is in his third year with the San Francisco 49ers, working in special events sales and service. He is director of the Bay Area Host Committee for the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium. It’s the home of the 49ers.
The game is a matchup of the Cotton Bowl winner and the Orange Bowl winner. ESPN will carry the game.
As Executive Director of the Dec. 31 Redbox Bowl between Michigan State (7-5 overall) of the Big 10 and Oregon (8-4) of the Pac-12, Oppelt is responsible for working closely with the two conferences, FOX Sports, marketing and hospitality, and overseeing and leading a staff, just to name a few areas. The New Year’s Eve game has a 12 p.m. start and will be carried by FOX.
“I’m very lucky to have this role,” he said. “The nice thing about kind of leading a bowl game, an event like this, is you get to sort of wear many different hats and you’re involved in a lot of different elements. I’m very fortunate to have a great team. All the various departments come together and help and support this event.
“We are out trying to drive awareness of the game, developing a marketing campaign to drive ticket sales – that’s one big component. It should be just a terrific matchup, a great game on New Year’s Eve.”
Michigan State is led by quarterback Brian Lewerke, who passed for 1,868 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season, and Kenny Willekes, a defensive end, who was named as the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year.
Quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for 2,985 yards with 28 touchdowns during the regular season, leads Oregon. Dillon Mitchell, a wide receiver, has 69 receptions for 1,114 yards with nine touchdowns.
“Great programs. Two big brands. They are national brands, with great fan bases. Two great institutions,” said Oppelt, a University of Oregon graduate.
“What bowl games are about are a reward for all the hard work that the student athletes and the teams and the support staff have put in throughout the year. And to play at an NFL world-class stadium at Levi’s and have four or five days in San Francisco is a really big reward. It’s a special experience.
“There a lot of positives that go into this event. We bring a ton of economic impact into the Bay Area by having these teams out here and showcasing the Bay Area.”
It was in September when Levi’s Stadium announced a multi-year partnership with Redbox, with Redbox serving as title sponsor of the bowl game, footballbowlassociation.com reported. Redbox has new-release movies and video game rentals, according to about.redbox.com.
“It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year,” said Oppelt, 45, a 1991 St. Helena High graduate who makes his home in Mill Valley. “It’s all about creating memories for these student athletes. It’s kind of developing the entire bowl week experience for the teams when they come out to San Francisco.
“We have two great teams this year. It should be just a terrific game.”
Oppelt and staff members with the Redbox Bowl will be at the airport tarmac to greet and welcome the respective teams upon their arrival in the Bay Area.
There are events planned for the two teams, including a tour of Alcatraz, cable car tour of the city, and dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
There is also a rally on Dec. 30 at Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco.
Representatives from the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences will volunteer to serve meals to those in need at GLIDE and St. Anthony’s in San Francisco as part of the week’s planned events, according to levisstadium.com.
Said Oppelt in a story at footballbowlassociation.com in May, “We are in the midst of an incredibly exciting year for college football in the Bay Area and the addition of an innovative brand like Redbox as the game’s new title partner greatly adds to that excitement. This year’s Redbox Bowl features a family-friendly noon kickoff that will help launch a week-long celebration of college football in the Bay Area and we welcome Redbox and their brand of entertainment to the party.”
Background in bowl games
Oppelt has been with the Bay Area’s annual bowl game since the inaugural game in 2002, when it was known as the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl and featured Virginia Tech and Air Force. It was renamed the Emerald Bowl in 2004.
Oppelt worked as the assistant executive director of the Emerald Bowl. He and Gary Cavalli, the game’s executive director, worked as employees of the San Francisco Bowl Game Association and the game was played at AT&T Park.
“That first year,” Oppelt said in an interview in 2006, “was really about trying to make sure that we put this event together. We didn’t have a whole lot of time to promote it. It was basically, let’s pull it off, let’s make sure the teams come out here and have a great experience, so that we can build our reputation, because as one of the new guys you really have to compete and do as much as you can to take care of the teams and kind of distinguish yourself. You want to get a reputation so that teams want to come here.”
It was played as the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl from 2002 to 2003, the Emerald Bowl from 2004 to 2009, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl from 2010 to 2012, Fight Hunger Bowl in 2013, and then the Foster Farms Bowl from 2014 to 2017.
The annual bowl game was played at AT&T Park in San Francisco from 2002-2013.
The game moved to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in 2014.
“I’m very fortunate to be able to work in this business,” said Oppelt.
The San Francisco 49ers organization took over management of the Foster Farms Bowl from the San Francisco Bowl Game Association, it was reported by www.levisstadium.com in July of 2016.
This is the 17th year of the Bay Area bowl game.
St. Helena High years
Oppelt passed for 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior at St. Helena High. He completed 82 passes.
Oppelt threw for 986 yards and eight TDs as a senior. He completed 84 passes.
St. Helena was a member of the SCAL in those days, joining Justin-Siena, River City-West Sacramento, Vanden, Dixon, John Swett-Crockett, St. Patrick’s-Vallejo and Encina-Sacramento.
He threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a score in a 28-19 Vine Bowl win over Justin-Siena his junior season.
“Playing the game of football, everything has got to jell,” said Oppelt. “The linemen have got to do their job. Every single component has to be just right in order to have success. I think that generates a lot of camaraderie and a lot of trust and bonding with your teammates.
“When it goes the way it’s supposed to go, there’s nothing like that feeling of success in the game.”
To purchase tickets, visit redboxbowl.com or call 415-464-9377.