LINCOLN — Nebraska has sold less than one-third of its ticket allotment for the Capital One Bowl, lagging sales that weren't unexpected and may not accurately portray the enthusiasm level of Husker football fans, according to NU officials.
About 3,800 tickets had been purchased through the Nebraska ticket office, as of Thursday afternoon — which is less than half the amount NU sold for the same postseason game a year ago (7,900).
Fan interest in Nebraska's bowl game has assuredly dipped somewhat since the team's disappointing showing in the Big Ten championship two weeks ago. A familiar New Year's Day destination, the convenience of professional ticket brokers and rising travel prices haven't helped to increase the demand, either.
But it's too early to predict how many Husker fans will be in the stands when the Capital One Bowl kicks off, according to Athletic Director Tom Osborne.
“Nebraska fans generally travel quite well and a lot of fans buy tickets in secondary markets so it's really hard to know how many will show up until we actually play the game,” Osborne said in an email.
NU is contractually responsible to purchase and resell 12,500 Capital One Bowl tickets, but it's Big Ten policy to reimburse athletic departments for all unsold bowl tickets. The conference prefers its schools do not sell tickets at a discounted rate because a portion of the combined bowl payouts, which are distributed equally among members, will ultimately cover the financial hit.
Michigan and Wisconsin are the only league teams to have sold more than half of their bowl game allotments so far this month, according to published reports. Michigan State announced this week that it still has 9,000 tickets left for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Purdue, in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, has reportedly sold 2,500 of 6,000. Minnesota's ticket sales are at 2,000 for the Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl.
“It's kind of the problem everywhere,” said Holly Adam, NU assistant athletic director of ticketing. “We're competing with the secondary market, where tickets are going for $20.”
Nearly 7,000 Capital One Bowl tickets, some as cheap as $20, were available Thursday on StubHub, a popular online ticket broker. The average price was about $110, though that will presumably drop as kickoff approaches. Tickets through NU's ticket office are $87 and $93.
Adam said Big Ten administrators have discussed ways to more effectively encourage fans to buy from their teams' ticket offices — a bowl providing improved seating options, for example.
When college football's postseason is reorganized in 2014, there could be more flexibility within bowl game contracts, according to Steve Hogan, the executive director of the Capital One Bowl. Perhaps there could be a more “dynamic relationship” between payouts and ticket prices, Hogan said.
Selling out an allotment tends to reflect positively on a program's reputation, presumably making it more attractive to bowl committees in the future.
“It's not that our fans don't travel anymore, but they're resourceful in where they get their (tickets),” Adam said. “They're going to be looking for the deal.”
Last year's Nebraska-South Carolina matchup drew an announced attendance of 61,351 — what Hogan characterized as a “great crowd.” Hogan expects a “very good crowd” again this year, when the Huskers face Georgia.
Georgia has reportedly sold about 10,000 tickets to its fan base, but its campus is about a seven-hour drive from Orlando.
NU fans who’ve traveled with the Husker football team all year could be a tad road weary” — Nebraska’s team will have logged 10,296 total miles by season’s end, averaging the second-most per-trip miles (1,471) in the conference behind Wisconsin (1,480).
And flying to Orlando around Jan. 1 is expensive. As of Wednesday, according to AAA Travel, the best rate available for a flight from Omaha to Orlando was $569.70 — and you'd have to depart on New Year's Eve and return three days later. Prices are so high that Rose White, AAA Nebraska spokeswoman, said private charter flights provide a competitive option.
Nebraska's alumni association added an airfare-only option to its charter flight travel packages this year in an attempt to accommodate fans who were struggling to find a way to Orlando.
“Getting there is not the easiest thing to accomplish right now, or the cheapest,” said Diane Mendenhall, the NU alumni association executive director.
Mendenhall compared this year's fan interest in the alumni association's travel options to that of 2010, when Nebraska made a return trip to the Holiday Bowl.
NU sold all 11,000 of its allotted tickets to the 2009 Holiday Bowl in a day and a half. It sold about 8,600 in 2010.
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