Once again, Virginia Tech finding Orange Bowl tickets to be a tough sell

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 28, 2010; 1:34 PM

BLACKSBURG, VA. - Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer walked off a podium in Charlotte earlier this month, having just completed his postgame remarks about his team's fourth ACC championship in seven years. But as he left the small auditorium within the bowels of Bank of America Stadium, Beamer remembered that he forgot to say something.

"Hey," the coach called out to a group of reporters exiting the room behind him. "Be sure to tell our fans to buy their Orange Bowl tickets through us, not anywhere else."

It was an odd statement, considering the Hokies had just finished off a remarkable turnaround to a season that began with an 0-2 start. But when it comes to bowl games, there is no bigger concern at Virginia Tech than the source of its fans' tickets.

In conjunction with membership in the Bowl Championship Series, each participating school is expected to buy one-fourth of the tickets available for its bowl game. In the Orange Bowl's case, that means Virginia Tech and Stanford each are on the hook for 17,500 tickets.

But the last time Virginia Tech appeared in the Orange Bowl following the 2008 season, it sold just more than 3,300 of its 17,500-ticket allotment, losing a reported $1.77 million in unsold tickets as a result.

Despite Beamer's plea, Virginia Tech again expects to take a heavy loss this year. As of last week, the Hokies had sold around 6,500 of their ticket allotment. Tim East, Virginia Tech's associate athletic director for external affairs, said they expect sales to continue as game day approaches, but "we're not gonna sell out our allotment, that's for sure."

Stanford, meanwhile, has sold just more than 10,000 of its tickets, according to a school official. Plus, the Pacific-10 conference will cover the cost of any unsold tickets, per league policy. The ACC has no such policy.

The problem, according to Virginia Tech officials, is two-fold. For one, neither school is given the best seats in the house. While Virginia Tech did have some lower-level tickets to sell, most were end zone or corner seats at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. The majority of the best sideline views are kept by the Orange Bowl to sell to its local patrons.

"If you're out marketing the other 50 percent of the tickets to the general public, you're gonna want to get the best seats you can get and that's what the bowls are doing," East said. "But you'd like to think you can sell the tickets, and if the demand's there, it's gonna sell."

That, it seems, is the problem the Hokies once again have run into this year. An Orange Bowl official confirmed this week that they are expecting a crowd of around 65,000 at the Jan. 3 game, about 10,000 short of Sun Life Stadium's 75,540 capacity.

Even though a matchup with the fifth-ranked Cardinal is much more attractive than two years ago, when Virginia Tech faced Cincinnati, the slow sales have created a secondary market through online retailers such StubHub that feature cheaper prices than what the school can offer.

The price range of tickets in Virginia Tech's section runs as low as $65 for the upper deck or as high as $225 for the lower bowl. But as of Tuesday, tickets in the lower level were going for as low as $40 on StubHub. Upper-level seats were available for just $12.

Despite how this appears, Orange Bowl chief operating officer Michael Saks contends the secondary market is not the issue this year and that bowl officials haven't seen a dramatic shift in ticket sales through sites like StubHub over the past 12 days.

He said there are many factors that can affect ticket sales, such as how a team got to the bowl game or how much a team's fan base has already traveled that season. Not to mention this year's Orange Bowl is on a Monday, when most children have returned to school from the holiday break.

"We look at the secondary market, not as competition, but that it can aid you," Saks said. "A lot of times it can drive ticket prices up. I think you have to look at the bowl system in its totality, not just snapshots of single bowls. I think when you look at the system as a whole, there's a lot of bowls that have the highest demand of tickets."

This, though, doesn't change the fact that Virginia Tech will be forced to pay a sizable amount for its unsold tickets even though it expects more than 17,500 of its fans to be in south Florida over the next week.

For future years, the school's athletic department is debating whether to sell off its ticket allotment at reduced prices or offer alumni club benefits to entice fans to buy through the university.

Ultimately, though, it's a consumer-based decision. As East tells it, he received one e-mail from a fan who, despite finding cheaper tickets online, was adamant about buying bowl tickets through the school because of the school's poor ticket sales two years ago. But more often than not, that doesn't seem to be the case.

"Fans are saavy, and everybody's got their own pre-requisite or objective that they're looking for," East said. "A lot of fans want to sit on the 40- or 50-yard line and if they have to spend a little bit more money or go on the secondary market to do it, that's what they're gonna do."

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