BCS Geared Towards TV, Not the Real Fans

, TechSideline.com, on December 13, 2011
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Virginia Tech hasn’t sold their allotment of Sugar Bowl tickets yet. What’s
not being mentioned by the national media is that Michigan hasn’t, either. How
can two schools like Michigan and Virginia Tech have trouble moving tickets to a
great event like the Sugar Bowl? There are many reasons, but the general themes
seem to be the fact that people can’t get time off work after New Year’s, and
the cost of airfare is through the roof.

Note that all numbers compiled for this article are from Monday afternoon.
That includes number of tickets sold, as well as flight costs.

Comparing Ticket Sales

Virginia Tech announced on Monday that 9,337 of the school’s 17,500 allotted
tickets to the Sugar Bowl have been sold. Michigan has sold 14,800. The
Wolverines sold 13,000 on the first day they put up tickets for sale, but it’s
been slow going since then.

To be honest, it’s probably a little disappointing for the Sugar Bowl that
both of these schools are having trouble moving tickets. Not that it really
matters; the Sugar Bowl is getting paid for them either way because schools are
required to purchase all 17,500 tickets of their allotment.

At any rate, I think most people thought Michigan would have sold out by now,
and Virginia Tech would be very close. When you look at it from a per capita
perspective, Virginia Tech has actually done better than Michigan when it comes
to ticket sales.


Tickets Sold

Team

Tickets

Living Alumni

Percentage
Michigan 14,800 460,000 3.2%
Virginia Tech 9,337 200,000 4.7%
The Michigan number is from their Wikipedia entry
and is correct as of 2007; the Virginia Tech number is
from the VT Alumni Association web site.

When you consider that Michigan plays in a stadium that seats over 100,000
people, and they’ve only been to one Sugar Bowl in the history of the program,
it’s a little surprising that they haven’t sold their allotment yet. And
Michigan fans didn’t have to spend money traveling to a conference championship
game either.

At the same time, it’s a glass house argument. Tech fans complain about going
to the Orange Bowl each year, and now that they have an opportunity to go to the
Sugar Bowl against a storied program like Michigan, they’ve bought barely half
of Tech’s allotted tickets.

We ran a poll
over the weekend in our blogs section about Sugar Bowl attendance, and the
results are interesting.

Those Going

There’s no need to spend a lot of time on this one. Of our 1,289 responders,
313 say they are going to the Sugar Bowl. Some elected to buy their tickets
through Virginia Tech, others decided to buy through a third party. Here’s how
the numbers break down.


Going to Sugar Bowl

Reason

Votes

%
Bought through VT 246 78.6%
Bought through 3rd party 67 21.4%

Total

313

100%

Most folks going to the Sugar Bowl bought them through Virginia Tech, while a
little over 20% bought them through a third party. As of this morning, the
Hokies had sold 9,337 tickets to the Sugar Bowl. Based on the percentages in our
poll, over 2,000 more have bought tickets through a third party. Right now,
there are almost 7,000 tickets available on Stubhub.com, and many are priced
below $100. Some are priced as low as $60.

Those Not Going

885 of our 1,289 responders say they are not going, and they list a variety
of reasons.


Not Going to Sugar Bowl

Reason

Votes

%
Other Reason 290 32.8%
Can’t Get off Work 225 25.4%
Expensive Airfare 191 21.6%
Don’t want to 66 7.4%
Tech’s poor record in neutral site games 60 6.8%
Game tickets are too expensive 39 4.4%
Already been to the Sugar Bowl 3 times 14 1.6%

Total

885

100%

“Other” comes in at number one, and it could mean anything:

“I treated the trip to Charlotte as the bowl game, so it’s not in the
budget to go to the Sugar Bowl.”
“My in-laws are in town for the Holidays.”
“My wife won’t let me.”

Etc, etc.

Or perhaps the total package of the trip – hotel, airfare, game ticket and
spending money – is just too much, especially after spending the weekend in
Charlotte in early December. Think about it … if you’ve got a family of four
and you went to the ACC Championship Game and traveled from Northern Virginia.
You might have spent $300 on two nights in a hotel, and $400 on game tickets,
$200 on gas, another $200 on meals and drinks … we’re talking about a $1,100,
or more.

Now let’s say that you are that same Northern Virginia Hokie fan, and you’re
talked into the taking the trip to New Orleans. You leave the kids at home this
time, and just take your wife. You fly down on January 1, and fly back on
January 4.


Trip from DC to New Orleans

Purchase

Price
Travelocity Flight/Hotel $1,790
Game Tickets $120
Misc. $300

Total

$2,210

The cheapest travel package (flight plus hotel) I could get on
Travelocity.com was $1,790 from DC, which includes a round trip flight and three
nights at the Clarion Inn Suites in the French Quarter. Throw in money for two
cab rides to and from the airport and spending money on meals, drinks and
shopping around the city, plus two tickets bought for cheap on the secondary
market and we’re up to a $2,210 trip – and that’s probably being very
conservative.

That’s well over $3,000 spent on Tech football in a month. That’s a lot of
money to spend in a 30 day span, with Christmas in between. Let’s say our
hypothetical fan increased his donation to the Hokie Club by $1,000 recently as
well, because of the Lane Stadium reseating that is taking place next season.
We’ve talking a serious wad of cash here.

Other factors that are keeping fans (Tech and Michigan) at home include the
day of the game and expensive airfare.

As has been discussed ad nauseum on the message boards, bowl game dates these
days are planned for television purposes, not to drive up attendance. Back in
the days before the BCS, big bowl games were held on December 31 or January 1.
For traveling purposes, these are the best dates for fans, because most are
already off work.

Unfortunately, the BCS decided to maximize television value by placing the
games on different dates. Now we see Tuesday and Wednesday BCS games. In a year
like this, those are extremely difficult games for people to make because of
work. The poll we took proves that. 25.4% of the people not going to the Sugar
Bowl say it’s because they can’t get off work. And that’s a legit reason. What
if the game were on Saturday? I bet a lot more people would be there.

Flight prices are insane as well. Unless you jumped onto one of the AirTran
packages that have since sold out ($250 round trip), you are dishing out a lot
of money to fly to this game. Yet again, I used Travelocity.com to search for
roundtrip flights from Washington, DC and Charlotte, NC for two people, flying
down on January 2 and flying back on January 4. I also ran the numbers for
flying into Baton Rouge rather than New Orleans, and as you can see that is a
much more affordable option.


Flight Prices

Flight

Roundtrip Cost

People

Total Cost
Charlotte to NO $758 2 $1,516
DC to NO $590 2 $1,180
Charlotte to Baton Rouge $533 2 $1,066
DC to Baton Rouge $384 2 $768

If flight prices are an issue for you, you do have the option of flying to
Baton Rouge and renting a car. Flying into Baton Rouge from DC would save you
$412 for a party of two, while a trip from Charlotte would save you $450. It’s
an easy drive from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, and vice versa. I did it in 2007
for the LSU game. Saving $400+ is a big deal. That will buy you a Hurricane or
three.

For the 39 people in our poll who aren’t going because game ticket prices are
too high, make sure you check into the secondary market before making a final
decision. Tickets can be had for as little as 50% of face value, and I bet those
prices continue to drop as well.

Ticket Donations

If you’d like to buy tickets and support the school, then you’ve got a couple
of options. The Virginia Tech athletic department issued this
statement
about proxy tickets earlier this week.

You could also donate tickets directly to the military, here.
If you donate your tickets to that organization, you can write it off on your
taxes.

Expectations Too High?

Were expectations too high for Virginia Tech’s ticket sales for the Sugar
Bowl? Probably so. Were they too high for Michigan? Maybe so, because the
Wolverines still haven’t sold their allotment. In fact, they’ve only sold 1,800
tickets over the last week after selling 13,000 on the first day.

Virginia Tech rightfully built up a reputation as one of the best traveling
fan bases in the country, but as time went by, the “newness” factor of
Tech football gradually wore off. The 1995 Sugar Bowl was a new experience. The
2000 Sugar Bowl was new. Even the Sugar Bowl against Auburn was new, because the
Hokies had won the ACC in their first year in a new conference.

In 2011, it’s not as new anymore. Tech fans have become used to shelling out
money to see Virginia Tech play big neutral site games, and more times than not,
the Hokies lose. Many of those times Tech either gets drilled by a superior
team, or they shoot themselves in the foot on their way to a loss to an inferior
team. You can bet that Tech’s history in neutral site games is keeping some
people home. I’m 1-8 when attending games like that: 2001 FSU in the Gator Bowl,
USC 2004, Auburn 2004, FSU 2005, Georgia 2006, Kansas 2007, Cincinnati 2008,
Alabama 2009 and Clemson in 2011. And as a win, beating Cincinnati in front of
30,000 people in an empty stadium with no one watching on TV doesn’t really
count.

That ACC Championship Game left a really bad taste in my mouth as far as
traveling goes. If this wasn’t the Sugar Bowl, I wouldn’t even consider going.
As a fan, it gets old after awhile to drop a lot of money on road trips just to
see your team lose.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. Compared to other major programs
around the country, Virginia Tech’s fan base just isn’t very big. Lane Stadium
seats just over 66,000 fans. That’s small, when you compare it to major programs
like Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Clemson, South Carolina,
etc. The fact that the Hokies have traveled as well, or better, than many of
those fan bases in the past is very impressive. But when the newness factors
wears off, and there are many other factors in play, the numbers are going to
take a hit.

BCS Bowls Not Geared Towards the Traveling Fan Anymore

Virginia Tech has 11,162 Hokie Club members. Michigan has over 24,000 season
ticket holders, and almost 14,000 people on the waiting list for season tickets.
That means Tech has half the number of donors as Michigan has season ticket
holders, and as we’ve covered before, well under half of the total living alums
across the country. Michigan has more fans just on their waiting list for season
tickets than Virginia Tech has donating to the Hokie Club.

Considering Michigan and their Green Bay Packer-like season ticket numbers,
it’s very surprising that they haven’t sold out their allotment yet. There are
simply many, many more Michigan fans than Virginia Tech fans, plus they didn’t
have to drop a lot of money to attend a conference championship game in early
December.

Michigan hasn’t sold their allotment because they are dealing with the same
issues as Virginia Tech fans. Michigan fans have to work, and the cheapest round
trip airline ticket from Detroit to New Orleans is $796. Most tickets out of
Detroit are in the $900 range. That’s completely insane. I can get a round trip
flight from Chicago to London for just over $1,000.

Ouch. You think you’ve got it rough, if you got a $500-600 flight out of DC?
Imagine spending $900 for a flight from Detroit. No wonder the Wolverines
haven’t sold their allotment.

Which leads me to my next point: the average college football traveling fan
is getting priced out. It’s simply not economical or affordable to go to these
games anymore. Instead of on the weekends or on holidays, they are in the middle
of the week when fans might not be able to get off work. Those that can get off
work are stuck paying exorbitant airfare, and dropping $150 or more for a ticket
if they don’t choose to buy through the secondary market.

The BCS Bowls were lumped together to sell to television as one big package.
Apparently, that TV package is worth more money to these games than actual fan
attendance. Spacing those games out over several days gives the networks a lot
more advertising spots than if they tried to fit all games over a two-day span.
It’s tough to find fault with them, from a business perspective. I’ve never met
anyone who wanted to make less money.

That doesn’t mean that we, as fans who like to travel, can’t complain about
it. HDTV is driving things these days. If a fatter TV contract means that BCS
bowls are played in the middle of the week, then they are going to be played in
the middle of the week. It doesn’t matter what that does to the average
traveling fan. You, me and a lot of other folks are getting priced out by the
average couch fan who doesn’t even follow a team, but who just likes to watch
college football on TV. That makes me more than a little bitter, even though I
understand that’s how the world works.

One policy that I’d like to see changed is the one that requires the school
to purchase their entire allotment of tickets if the fans don’t buy them. No
wonder these bowl games set their ticket prices so high. They know they are
going to get paid for them whether or not the butts are actually in the seats.
For what it’s worth, Virginia Tech isn’t the only major program to get burned by
this. Oklahoma had over 11,000 unsold tickets for last year’s Fiesta Bowl
against UConn.

If you can make the game, I encourage you to go. Virginia Tech might not be
in another Sugar Bowl for 20 years or more, and there’s just not that many
opportunities to see your alma mater face off against a team like Michigan in an
impressive venue like the Superdome. I’m guessing, however, that it’s not
encouragement that you need. It’s either money, or time off from work. It’s just
not economical or convenient for many people to be a good fan these days, even
when they really want to.

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