After decade of sellouts, Orange Bowl ticket sales lag
By Scott E. Pacheco
After years of sellouts, this year's Orange Bowl game faces an uphill battle to fill 70,000-plus capacity LandShark Stadium.
The economy, coupled with the game scheduled on a post-holiday Tuesday night Jan. 5, has made selling the University of Iowa-Georgia Tech football matchup harder.
"In the 2000s every game was sold out. This game is going to need a big push to get there," said Eric Poms, chief executive officer of the Orange Bowl Committee.
Last year, the economy also was in poor shape, but South Florida had the benefit of also hosting the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship game, which "insulated" the Orange Bowl, Mr. Poms said. For that reason, he said, to get a feel for how this year is shaping up a "better comparison" is the January 2008 game.
"It's a little more challenging in terms of the travel we are seeing with the day of the week," he said. Also, "the economy certainly is a factor."
Still, the committee is happy two out-of-town teams are to bring fans for long stays in Greater Miami's hotels.
Georgia Tech and Iowa received allotments of 17,500 tickets each. The schools have bought the tickets and must decide what to do with those that don't sell, Mr. Poms said, adding that the committee will help move the tickets if called upon.
After the BCS, the conferences, TV and other partners get shares of tickets, the Orange Bowl Committee is charged with selling the rest.
"That's our challenge — to move" the other half of the stadium, Mr. Poms said. "We are going to put our best foot forward to get as many people locally out there."
Georgia Tech Associate Athletic Director Wayne Hogan said he expects the school to only sell about 11,000 of its allotment. However, he said the university generally has a better fan showing than its ticket sales show.
"A lot of our fans find tickets through other sources than through the athletic association here," he said. "Sometimes our numbers don't necessarily reflect the number of fans that will be in South Florida."
Case in point: For the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game Dec. 5 in Tampa, Georgia Tech sold 8,000 tickets through the university, but 15,000 to 20,000 of its fans showed up.
Fan interest is high as Georgia Tech, not a traditional powerhouse, is making its first appearance in a BCS bowl — the five most prestigious bowls every year — since the system began in the late '90s.
"It wouldn't matter if we were playing Montana," Mr. Hogan said. "We have a chance to win 12 games this season and that's a great accomplishment."
For Iowa, success has been more recent. The school has sold almost 16,000 of its allotted tickets and historically its fan base travels very well, said Mike Osmundson, assistant ticket director.
"We went to the Orange Bowl in 2003 and we sold around 25,000 [tickets] just in our office," he said.
Plus, he said, the sunshine doesn't hurt, either.
"It's a little chilly this time of year and going south is always a draw," Mr. Osmundson said. "Being in Miami in January — you really can't beat it."