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UConn sold fewest tickets of all public schools in BCS over past three years

By Mac Cerullo
On April 25, 2012

UConn sold fewer tickets to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl than any other public school that has appeared in the Bowl Championship Series over the past three years, according to bowl documents obtained by The Daily Campus.

The university sold only 2,771 Fiesta Bowl tickets out of its allotment of 17,500, absorbing $2.9 million in unsold tickets as a result. Both figures were far and away the worst of all schools.

On average, schools that went to the BCS between 2010 and 2012 sold 15,854 tickets and absorbed $420,778 in unsold tickets. The only other school that absorbed more that $1 million in ticket sales during that period was West Virginia at the 2012 Orange Bowl. The Mountaineers absorbed $1.1 million, which was close to a third of what UConn's cost.

Annually, absorbed ticket expenses are among the biggest costs of going to a BCS bowl. Every school that appears in the BCS is contractually obligated to sell a certain number of tickets, and if the school cannot sell them all, they are on the hook for the cost of the unsold tickets.

Many conferences help cover the costs of the unsold tickets, but the Big East does not, which meant that when UConn was stuck with 14,729 unsold tickets to the Fiesta Bowl, it was on its own.

The Daily Campus obtained records from each of the public schools that have appeared in the BCS over the past three years, comprising 26 of the 30 teams during that timeframe. The teams not accounted for were Stanford and Texas Christian University, both private schools that are not required to disclose financial information. Each school appeared in the BCS twice in the past three years.

The records detailed all of the schools' expenses, including travel, meals, lodging and other miscellaneous costs. The records also included a summary of ticket sales, including figures for exactly how many tickets each school committed to selling, how many it sold, and how much it absorbed.

Mike Enright, UConn's associate director of athletics for communications, said that while UConn's ticket figures were bad, the school was stuck in a tough position given how far away the school had to travel to get to the game. UConn had to travel farther than any other team to reach its bowl; the UConn campus is 2,238 miles from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

"I think we just got in a bad spot," Enright said. "We played in a bowl game that was completely across the country and flights were very expensive."

While UConn's ticket figures were the worst by far, it was not the only school that struggled to sell tickets. UConn's opponent in the Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma, sold only 5,567 tickets, the second fewest among all schools.

Unlike UConn, however, Oklahoma did receive help from its conference. The Big 12 bought up over 10,000 tickets, saving Oklahoma $1,884,250. Had the school been forced to absorb all of the tickets, it would have posted a loss of over $1.8 million instead of the $9,350 profit it earned.

In addition to Oklahoma, three other schools' conferences absorbed roughly $1 million in unsold tickets. Those schools were Georgia Tech (2010 Orange Bowl), Virginia Tech (2011 Orange Bowl and 2012 Sugar Bowl) and Clemson (2012 Orange Bowl).

Virginia Tech in particular has benefited from the ACC's policy of buying up a percentage of unsold tickets. In 2011, Virginia Tech lost $421,046 at the Orange Bowl despite the ACC buying up $1.2 million in unsold tickets, and this year, Virginia Tech lost $533,168 at the Sugar Bowl despite the ACC paying for $951,770 in unsold tickets.

Worse yet, Virginia Tech posted a loss at the Sugar Bowl despite having no unsold ticket expense at all. The only other school that had no unsold ticket expense was Oklahoma State at the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, but the Cowboys posted a profit of $289,155.

Even football-crazy schools in the BCS National Championship game have struggled to sell tickets. Auburn and Alabama, the last two national champions, had the third and fourth highest ticket expenses respectively in the 2011 and 2012 BCS National Championship games. Auburn absorbed $781,825 of unsold tickets, and Alabama absorbed $770,152 despite the game being held a mere six-hour drive from its campus.

In total, 20 schools were left with more than 1,500 unsold tickets, and no school sold out its entire allotment.

Enright said that under different circumstances UConn probably would have done better, highlighting the fact that many schools struggled to sell tickets despite being much closer to the site of the game.

"I'm fairly confident that if we had gone to the Orange Bowl our numbers would have been comparable to what West Virginia did," Enright said. "Same thing with Virginia Tech. You can drive from Blacksburg to Miami, or certainly get a cheap flight. Oklahoma only sold 5,500 for the Fiesta Bowl and it's halfway across the country closer and obviously their bowl tradition is a lot stronger than ours."

Enright said that one of the biggest obstacles for selling tickets is the secondary ticket market. Tickets for the 2011 Fiesta Bowl could be bought on StubHub at much lower prices than through UConn, and on the day of the game, tickets could be found in the parking lot for as little as $30.

"I guarantee you there were more than 2,700 UConn fans there," Enright said.

Not all schools struggled to sell tickets, however. Oregon, for example, appeared in the BCS all three years, and they sold 33,195 out of 34,624 tickets at the 2010 Rose Bowl, 15,639 out of 17,400 tickets at the 2011 BCS National Championship game and 29,391 out of 31,060 tickets at the 2012 Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin did even better, coming within 210 tickets of selling out the Rose Bowl two years in a row. When Boise State appeared in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, it sold 17,182 out of its 18,500 tickets, and even Cincinnati, the Big East's champion in 2010, sold most of its tickets at the Sugar Bowl.

As far as the issue of the Big East helping its members buy up unsold tickets, Enright said that the Big East only has a certain amount of money to give out to bowl teams, and while UConn may not have benefited last year, it has in the past when it has gone to non-BCS bowls.

In the end, Enright felt that the school did the best it could at the Fiesta Bowl.

"I hate to say I don't know what we could have done differently but we put travel packages together, we tried to make things affordable," Enright said. "Phoenix was just a tough city to get to."

Some might dispute the claim that the game was affordable, however. UConn's travel packages for fans ranged from $1,000 to $2,635, and they did not come with a ticket to the game. Game tickets could be bought through the school for $105, $190, $235 or $255 before fees, and UConn's summary of postseason football and institutional bowl expenses showed that the school's biggest sellers were the $105 tickets and the $255 tickets.

Enright explained that the price of the service had to do with the premium quality that came with it.

"You go to the airport and you don't have to check your luggage. They take your luggage and your luggage is in your hotel when you get there." Enright said. "That's why the prices are higher. It's one stop shopping. You don't have to go looking for a hotel. It's premium travel."

As far as the possibility of a non-premium option, Enright said that negotiating prices with the airlines would be problematic.

"If we didn't do charter and we didn't do hotels then you're basically just doing commercial airfare, and now you're at the mercy of the airlines and how much per ticket you're going to buy," Enright said. "It's not like we can go to the airlines and say 'Hey can we get $100 tickets?' It's expensive to travel."

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