2012 Sugar Bowl: Virginia Tech Ticket Sales Stall as Secondary Market Prices Fall

We knew coming in that Virginia Tech's ticket sales for the 2012 Sugar Bowl would be under scrutiny due to the circumstances under which it was selected for the game. So how are the Hokies doing?

BLACKSBURG - The Virginia Tech Athletics Department announced today that it has sold 9,337 of its 17,500 tickets to the 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl. Over the years, Virginia Tech has earned the reputation of being a football program that enjoys a strong following to bowl games. In order to maintain that recognition, the Athletics Department is asking Hokie fans that cannot make this year's Allstate Sugar Bowl to consider purchasing proxy tickets. Tech Director of Athletics Jim Weaver, head football coach Frank Beamer, and the entire football coaching staff, will each be purchasing a pair of proxy tickets in order to support this initiative.

Not good.

This isn't going to end well for us. After an initial surge when tickets went on sale to the general public Friday, the ticket office was only able to sell a couple hundred tickets over the weekend. Now, fans are being asked to buy tickets and donate them in order to preserve the bowl rep that got us selected to the Sugar Bowl in the first place.

I will be surprised if the Hokies get to 10,000 tickets sold. Does that mean a financial hit for the athletics department? No. The conference will take care of that since Tech was able to sell over 8,000. But it will mean a hit in terms of public opinion, especially from the national media.

The Sugar Bowl pointed to Tech's travel reputation and national cachet as reasons for taking the Hokies over the likes of Boise State and Kansas State. That's not at all fair to the Broncos and Wildcats, but it also isn't fair to the Hokies who were destined to get fried in the press if they returned even one ticket.

Why We Aren't Buying

Even though our fans knew going in they needed to gobble up their allotment of 17,500 tickets, we are almost certainly going to fall well short of that number. So why are we falling so short? I think there are a few reasons:

  • Tickets are cheaper elsewhere
  • It's an expensive trip
  • We've grown complacent
Just as we've seen in our last three trips to the Orange Bowl, tickets can be had for much cheaper through the secondary market for this year's Sugar Bowl. If you look on SB Nation partner site TiqIQ, tickets in upper deck can be had for almost $40 under face value and tickets in the lower bowl can be had for about $15 under face value (as of the night of Dec. 12). And those prices are more expensive than what was available over the weekend.

I think one of the biggest reasons for this is the price of the tickets. If you've ever sat in the upper deck of the Superdome, you know those tickets aren't worth $120. Compared to other BCS bowls, $140 for the lower bowl is a decent deal, but having the 600 level of the Superdome priced at $120 is begging for unsold tickets from those that go on sale through the bowl itself, which drives down prices on the secondary market and hurts the school's chances of selling its tickets.

This is also a tough trip for Tech fans to make. The game's on a Tuesday, meaning fans have to take at least two days off work in addition to spending a good deal on plane tickets. Here's what flight prices look like originating from the most likely airports for Hokie fans for anywhere from a 3- to 5-day trip to New Orleans (via Kayak as of the afternoon of Dec. 12):

DEPART 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY
GSO $787 $422 $613
RDU $696 $445 $583
RIC $766 $444 $570
ROA $1,018 $430 $N/A
ORF $N/A $437 $473
BWI $633 $412 $464
DCA $908 $420 $375
IAD $1,019 $693 $544

How does that compare for Michigan fans? Right now, it will cost them anywhere between $573 and $909 to fly out of Detroit, depending on how long they stay in New Orleans. Pretty comparable, but the Wolverines have sold over 14,000 of their tickets based on recent reports.

Look, the economy's bad. It's been bad. It's probably going to be bad for a long time to come. I understand that. There are some people who just can't afford this trip. But I think there's a certain segment of our fan base that just isn't excited about a bowl trip like this and that's really unfortunate.

I hope it's not the case, but I get the feeling a lot of our fans are fat and happy after eight years of 10-win seasons and don't want make another extended trip unless the Hokies somehow reach the national title game. If that's the case, then we may not get another chance like the one we've been presented by the Sugar Bowl for a long time.

I'll withhold judgment until I see how many Hokies actually show up in New Orleans, though. Bowls care more about impact on the local economy than they do how many tickets the school sold. The bowl is going to get its money from that either way.

Why We Don't Deserve the Heat

This all started because the Sugar Bowl selected Virginia Tech over Boise State and Kansas State. The bowl made that decision, not the Hokies. Whether Tech is better than BSU and KSU is debatable, but the Sugar Bowl skipped over the higher-ranked Broncos and Wildcats because of reasons not related to football.

Those reasons, national cachet and fan travel, are also debatable. If the Sugar Bowl didn't want Boise because of distance or whatever reason, that left Virginia Tech and Kansas State. And in terms of their marketability and fan base, the two teams are nearly indistinguishable.

Both have older coaches who built their programs from nothing into household names. Both are in town that are off the beaten path and have an in-state rival who looks down their noses at them and calls them rednecks as a self-defense mechanism for getting their ass kicked every year in football.

They both have great fans with a reputation for making their relatively small stadiums sound like they seat 100,000. They both had once-in-a-lifetime quarterbacks who wore No. 7 and nearly took them to the promised land. And, both have a history of being very good football teams that fall just short of great.

Would Kansas State, Boise State or any other sold out their allotment? I don't know, maybe. But we're the ones who were charged with selling our allotment and are going to fail. So we're the ones who are going to get skewered for it while plenty of other tradition-rich schools are failing to sell their tickets.

Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan State and most spectacularly West Virginia aren't selling tickets, either. But they weren't given the burden the Sugar Bowl put on the Hokies. (Update: Add Clemson to this list. The Tigers have sold only 8,000 tickets for the Orange Bowl, the first ever BCS bowl for a usually enthusiastic fan base. They're facing the same things we are: Expensive face value for tickets, cheap secondary market tickets and a mid-week game.)

Why We Do Deserve the Heat

While the Sugar Bowl will have some questions to answer for skipping over BSU and KSU for a team that didn't sell its allotment, the Hokies have their own critics to answer.

That's because we bought into the notion that we're a great fan base that "have bowl, will travel." Now, for the third consecutive BCS bowl, we're not going to sell our bowl tickets. Hell, we're nowhere close to selling our allotment for this bowl and we've basically matched the number we sold for the previous two combined.

That's a trend, and a bad one for a fan base that used to have no problem showing up en masse to bowl games. Whether it's because of savvy ticket buyers, facing an expensive trip in a terrible economy, having our priorities straight or just malaise, we are not living up to our reputation as a fan base.

While it's been easy to explain away in recent years, this time, we're going to have to answer for it whether we deserve the heat or not.
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