Post Classifieds

Fiesta Bowl a financial loser

By Mac Cerullo
On January 18, 2011

  • Senior fullback Anthony Sherman carries the ball during UConn’s 48-20 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz. The university may incur a severe financial loss due to thousands of unsold tickets for the game. ASHLEY POSPISIL/The Daily Campus

Reaching the Fiesta Bowl was a huge achievement for the UConn football program, but as it turns out, it came at a huge cost. Specifically, major financial losses fueled primarily by insufficient ticket sales, nearly offset the revenue the school received for participating.

UConn was given an allotment of 17,500 tickets to sell, valued at approximately $3.4 million. Come game time, however, the school had only sold roughly 4,600 of those tickets.

Associate Athletic Director Mike Enright said that the athletic department was still calculating the exact amount the school would have to absorb and that no estimate or official figure of money lost had been established yet.

Given that the school only sold about a quarter of their allotment, it stands to reason that the resulting loss will be big. As a point of reference, the average value of the remaining 12,900 unsold tickets based on the $3.4 million total value would be roughly $2.5 million. If the official figure ends up being close to that, it would eat up nearly all of the schools participation revenue from the Big East by itself, and that's before factoring in other costs.

Other costs included travel, lodging and meal expenses, along with entertainment, promotion, awards, equipment and supplies, among other costs. The travel costs could prove to be the most exorbitant, given that the school had to fly several hundred people out to Arizona and back.

The school's official bowl expenses document has not yet been completed, and likely won't be available until March. The official numbers won't be known until then, but the early financial outlook based on tickets alone isn't positive.

How could that be?

The prevailing thought is that the payout schools receive from bowl games, which in the Fiesta Bowl's case is $17 million, goes straight to the participating university. In practice, however, that money goes to the Big East conference, along with the payouts of the other bowl games in which a Big East team is participating.

That money is then divided up and distributed among those teams. UConn's share was $2.5 million, a far cry from the $17 million the Fiesta Bowl advertises. Most of the Fiesta Bowl payout winds up going to other schools in the conference to help them cover expenses for their own bowl trips.

The main problem for the schools that participate in the bowl games is that they are obligated to resell a large sum of tickets, and the Big East doesn't help cover any losses incurred by ticket sales either, leaving the schools on the hook for whatever they don't sell. As a result, schools are stuck when their prices are undercut by secondary markets like Stubhub and eBay.

"The number of tickets sold doesn't reflect interest in the game," said Enright to the Hartford Courant last month. "It's reflective of secondary market and price of airfare and hotels."

UConn's bowl packages were priced at $105, $190, $235 and $255 before fees, but even the most dedicated Husky supporter would be hard pressed to pay those prices when a ticket could be bought on for as little as $3.99 on game day, according to Dom Amore of the Courant.

Then there is also the issue of airfare and lodging, UConn offered packages to get fans to and from the game as well, but those packages cost between $1,000 and $2,635 and didn't even include a ticket to the game. Many fans preferred to find cheap flights and lodging on their own, and if you can get a cheap ticket online as well, there isn't much incentive to go any other route.

In that respect, UConn was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and the ticket losses were almost inevitable.

The athletic department has justified those losses by saying the money will be made up in the long run by the increased exposure the program will have received and from future season-ticket sales that would follow. Being able to claim a BCS bowl berth would also be a major benefit, the department said.

The school was right about getting a lot of exposure. The Fiesta Bowl received a 6.7 rating, the fourth-highest rating in ESPN's history. It's too early to tell what kind of financial impact that exposure will have on the school, but in the short run, it won't be enough to lessen the bad news that is coming once the bowl expenses have been accounted for and submitted to the NCAA.

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