Representatives from the Chick-fil-A Bowl traveled to Charlottesville on Friday to formally present Virginia with an invitation to participate in the Dec. 31 event against Auburn. In case you were curious, the Cavaliers accepted.
For the most part, the atmosphere inside the dining hall at John Paul Jones Arena was light. Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage made a reference to the theme song of the 1977 James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me.” University President Teresa Sullivan was given a silver Chick-fil-A Bowl helmet and was asked to try it on (she declined).
And then Chick-fil-A Bowl chief executive Gary Stokan made a statement that momentarily put an awkward expression on Littlepage’s face.
“I’m expecting Craig to get up and announce a sellout here soon,” Stokan said. “Hopefully you guys have all bought tickets.”
Littlepage wasn’t quite able to deliver on Stokan’s expectation. As of Friday morning, Littlepage said, Virginia had sold 11,371 of its allotted 18,000 tickets. Stokan later said he fully expects the Cavaliers to sell their remaining tickets so that the Chick-fil-A Bowl can promote a sellout for the 15th consecutive year. Only the Rose Bowl owns a longer sellout streak, Stokan noted.
Virginia, Stokan said, sold out its allotment of tickets the past two times the Cavaliers participated in the Atlanta bowl game (in 1995 and 1998). Stokan said he had “no doubt” Virginia would do so again.
“And I think they should, obviously, to support Coach [Mike] London and what he’s doing to build the program nationally,” Stokan said. “It behooves the University of Virginia to support their team.”
From a university’s standpoint, it’s important to sell out its allotment of bowl tickets for a number of reasons. Perhaps most critically, it establishes a reputation that a university carries into following bowl seasons. If a school has a particularly good reputation for ticket sales and fan followings to bowl games, it is more attractive to bowl representatives in what can be a very subjective selection process. Conversely, bowls might pass over teams from schools with less-than-stellar reputations in that regard.
The last time Virginia played in a bowl game was in 2007 at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. The Cavaliers’ athletic department sold 9,942 tickets to that game. In 2005, the Virginia athletic department sold 6,991 tickets to the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
But, as Stokan mentioned, Virginia sold its full allotment the past two times it played in a bowl game in Atlanta (the event was then known as the Peach Bowl). The Cavaliers’ athletic department sold 20,000 tickets in 1995 and 21,000 tickets in 1998.
On Friday, Littlepage spoke about the significance of bowl ticket sales for his athletic department.
“It does establish that we have a fan base that is supportive of this program, not only in terms of the regular season, but also in terms of a special event like this,” Littlepage said. “Also, it re-energizes the fan base, gets everybody back in line in terms of the support for the program. And I think a lot of that has to do with how are fans feel about Mike in particular as our coach. I think the fans have rallied behind this program and behind Coach London.”
Auburn has sold 14,000 of its 16,000 ticket allotment, Stokan said. He noted Auburn officials expect to sell their remaining 2,000 tickets by the end of the week.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl gave Auburn fewer tickets than Virginia because of its lower selection spot among bowls with ties to the Southeastern Conference. The Chick-fil-A Bowl makes the first ACC selection after the Bowl Championship Series picks are made. For its SEC representative, the Chick-fil-A Bowl makes the fourth selection after the BCS picks.
As for when Littlepage would prefer to have the remainder of Virginia’s ticket allotment sold, the athletic director said: “Sooner rather than later.”