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‘Tis the season of giving…unsold tickets back to bowls

Cam Worthy, Devin Bass AP

In the spirit of the season, college football teams are giving back.

Or, more accurately, a few schools haven’t come close to selling out their bowl ticket allotment, and are forced to eat the costs of thousands of tickets.

The numbers on Monday weren’t pretty: UCF returned 10,000 tickets while Baylor returned 5,000 tickets to the Fiesta Bowl, and Ohio State has only sold 7,000 of its 17,500-ticket allotment for the Orange Bowl. Those are just the numbers reported Monday; it’s probably fair to speculate plenty of other schools aren’t going to sell out their bowl ticket allotments.

While BCS bowls offer large payouts, schools have to pay up front for 17,500 tickets and then sell them to fans. The Toledo Blade’s David Briggs has an excellent look at just how bad the financial situation can get — for example, UConn lost $1.8 million on unsold tickets for the 2011 Fiesta Bowl.

Middle and lower-tier bowls often hurt participating teams the most. To say the crowd was sparse at Monday’s Beef O’Brady’s Bowl between East Carolina and Ohio at Tropicana Field would be a massive understament.

And while Bowling Green has seen brisk ticket sales for the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit this year, that’s not an annual luxury for it and similar schools:

At the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Bowling Green received 4,000 tickets. It sold 77 — 76 for $40 and one for $15. The athletic department and university lost a combined $154,000 after adding up expenses for the team, band, and athletic department staffers.

Toledo, meanwhile, sold about 300 tickets for last December’s Potato Bowl. It received $225,000 for the 2011 Military Bowl in Washington and $475,000 last year, but spent $518,000 and $699,000, respectively, according to school records.

Yikes. These games are a fine reward for a team’s seniors, and the added bowl practices do serve a significant purpose. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said: “You’re running a business and an organization for 365 days a year. (Not going to a bowl) would be like you’re closing down the business for a month. And that’s not good for business.”

But sometimes, these bowl games aren’t good for business, either.

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18 Responses to “‘Tis the season of giving…unsold tickets back to bowls”
  1. brianincbus says: Dec 23, 2013 4:59 PM

    Perhaps they should lower the prices? For instance, the cheapest Orange Bowl ticket is $90 before ticketmaster adds their fees. I was able to get 5 tickets in the 5th row of the upper deck for $65 after fees through a secondary site. You would think college educated people that run universities would know about supply and demand.

  2. taintedlombardis says: Dec 23, 2013 5:36 PM

    It’s a bad product that requires travel. What did they expect?

  3. floridacock says: Dec 23, 2013 5:45 PM

    Bowl does not make money, it folds. Schools lose more than they can afford, they don’t go. What’s your point? If you don’t like all the bowls, don’t watch and quit supporting ESPN. They and the rest of the press created this monster, so you guys would have something to complain about.

  4. soundsofsuccess7 says: Dec 23, 2013 5:57 PM

    Who in the hell wants to watch UCF and Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl..

  5. oldforester says: Dec 23, 2013 6:14 PM

    Had traveled to 5 bowls in a row and finally got smart and refused to buy from the university’s allocation which normally offers seats in the worst location, corner of the stadium, mid to upper decks. Also, tired of cities like Phoenix ripping fans off. Went to the Fiesta bowl, drove to the stadium a day early to locate the best place to park at the stadium in the section we had been designated to park. It was next to the acre sized grass field used by Arizona Cardinal fans to tailgate. When we parked next to the grass area and moved a cooler onto the grass, a golf cart sped toward us with two uniformed, armed policemen, one stadium security officer, and a “suit”. Very firmly we were told to leave the area, move back onto the asphalt. Why? The NCAA didn’t pay extra to have the grass cleaned. Had to stay an extra day due to our flight being cancelled. Asked the Phoenician Hotel for a one day extension and they (no joke) asked for $700 for one night in a room overlooking air conditioning units. Its time for fans to push back, because they routinely are ripped off.

  6. thefiesty1 says: Dec 23, 2013 6:30 PM

    That’s what happens when a meaningless bowl game happens with 6-6 teams. Does anybody really care?

  7. normtide says: Dec 23, 2013 6:44 PM

    The SEC is making changes with its bowl partners, giving the league more say in who goes where. But, they are also doing away with mandatory ticket buying from the programs involved. I think other leagues will also look into this.

  8. jmb795 says: Dec 23, 2013 7:37 PM

    The ACC got the message in 2013 and reduced the number of tickets both FSU and Duke were required to buy for the ACC Championship. (Last year, FSU lost $$478k and Ga. Tech $375k.) The jury is still out on the 2013 profit/loss for both teams.

  9. lgbfl says: Dec 23, 2013 7:58 PM

    The non-championship bowl games should be more regionalized AND the ticket prices need to come down. The bowls are ripping off the schools with their idiotic ticket requirements. The bowls and the networks rake in the money, the schools provide the entertainment AND pay huge amounts of money to do so. Some changes need to be made.

    It’s not that fans don’t want to go to the games, but paying inflated ticket prices AND trying to get last minute travel over the holidays is very difficult for the majority of fans. The Fiesta Bowl should be a great game, but Orlando-Phoenix r/t flights are running around $700. UCF most likely would have sold their entire allotment to the Orange Bowl and probably most of the allotment to the Sugar Bowl, but driving 30 hours to the Fiesta… ouch. And paying for $700 per person for your family to fly there… ouch.

    Ohio State fans would probably love to go to the Orange Bowl as well, but $700-$800 flights down to Miami make it a tough for their fans, and that’s not a minimal drive either.

    Neither the Fiesta Bowl nor the Orange Bowl are among the “meaningless bowls with 6-6 teams.” Both bowls include teams with excellent records and a history of interesting/entertaining games this seasons, but trying to attend them is a real financial stretch for most of their fan base.

  10. tomtravis76 says: Dec 23, 2013 8:06 PM

    The bowls will go away soon enough once the playoffs expand. Take the military bowl, Maryland vs Marshall…who cares about this game, nobody, not even alumni in the md area. But if that was a first round of the ncaa football playoffs, sold out , wouldn’t be able to get a ticket.

  11. tubaplayingprof says: Dec 23, 2013 8:17 PM

    The New Orleans Bowl had the right idea. Tulane vs Louisana had nearly 55,000 tickets sold.

  12. tonyricemajorharris says: Dec 23, 2013 9:17 PM

    Most of these bowls are just an excuse for some “fat cats” to line their pockets. Bowl season has become nothing more than a money grab

  13. normtide says: Dec 23, 2013 10:06 PM

    I don’t see the bowls going anywhere. They make tons of money from tv deals and corporate sponsors. Plus, they are great for the players. With tv paying big bucks for their rites, there must be plenty of people watching. Including myself, but I love college football.

  14. eagles512 says: Dec 23, 2013 11:36 PM

    I love all the bowls

  15. tampabayirish says: Dec 23, 2013 11:49 PM

    I am somewhat skeptical of all these reports of universities losing thousands of dollars on unsold bowl tickets. It’s all in how you do the accounting. Have you noticed that a university never says “no” to a bowl game invitation? I am willing to bet that all these reports of massive losses for athletic departments do not count in television broadcast revenue but only count revenue from ticket sales.

  16. v2the4 says: Dec 24, 2013 9:57 AM

    the only way the bowl games are going to survive in the future is go to more regional matchups such as what we saw in the New Orleans bowl btwn C-USA Tulane from New Orleans and Sun Belt member Louisiana Lafayette, from Lafayette, La, only 135 miles from New Orleans.

    for instance..UCF should have never been sent out to Phoenix, where you have to purchase travel package for three or four days which cost a lot of money,especially around the holidays…they should have been sent to the orange bowl in Miami, where fans could have driven the 250 miles from Orlando to Miami. While the hotels are pricey in Miami during the new year, some people would have driven home that night after the game.

    the texas bowl between Syracuse and Minnesota this friday will probably have 45,000 fans, but 10k of them may be locals…if they would have had two Texas teams, say Houston v Texas or Texas Tech, that game would have been a sellout at reliant…Houston v TCU had 68k in the same game in 2007

    I like North Texas playing their bowl game at the cotton bowl, but would rather have seen them play UTSA or LA-Monroe instead of UNLV, who may only bring 3k people..

    we will see next season if the bowls do a lot better, but then again, if espn, fox and cbs are paying X amount to televise the contest, I guess it doesnt matter in the end.

  17. normtide says: Dec 24, 2013 2:24 PM

    I think your right v. Bowls already take fan base size into account when selecting teams. That’s why Bama is playing Oklahoma instead of Oregon. The only problem will be the b1g, not many bowl games in their region. Schools like Minnesota will suffer under a regional system. As you stated, their fans don’t travel well. The Pac has plenty of bowls, but they are isolated. Not much competition for them out west. Then again, they have a thing with the b1g already. Maybe that is how it plays out. The SEC and 12 will thrive of course in that system. The southern part of the Acc will as well. Football is centered in those areas anyway.

  18. thephillyflyer says: Dec 28, 2013 6:00 AM

    So far through 11 bowls, only 2 (New Orleans — featuring locals Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette, along with the Las Vegas Bowl (USC)) have drawn over 40,000 fans and five of them failed to draw 30,000.

    First, note that 9 bowls are owned or operated by ESPN at present (six of which have been played and all but Vegas fitting in the sub 40,000 attendance department. I believe they will have two more new bowls next year in their portfolio.

    There are too many bowls out there, period. Very few, except boosters and well-heeled alums, give a rat’s butt about two 7-5 or 6-6 teams facing off on a December day in some random city that’s not convenient for most folks. Unless the bowl game has regional interest (Vegas, New Orleans) attendance suffers for the most part. That said, even Maryland playing in the state of Maryland couldn’t sell out Navy’s stadium for a bowl game…matchup against Marshall wasn’t intriguing enough.

    I think the end game for FBS is a 16 team playoff plus consolation bowl games (12-16 in number) that allow for about a third of FBS teams to have a meaningful postseason game or games. Perhaps the losers of the first round playoff games then get a bowl invite for New Year’s Eve or Day (Gator/Outback type bowl) as a way for fans to get the warm weather trip. The whole FBS postseason is a cluster and mediocrity is rewarded far too often…

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