Stanford Orange Bowl Ticket Sales Update: It’s All About Who You Ask

This just in: Stanford’s ticket sales for the Orange Bowl, 9,000 as of yesterday, are beating all expectations and are very disappointing. How is that possible? Well, the adjective depends on who you ask. Let’s check in with the Stanford point-of-view. Here’s David Vargas, director of football marketing:

We’re thrilled with how [Orange Bowl] sales have gone so far. At this point, I don’t know how much more opportunity there is for upside…But the response has been great. [emphasis added]

On the flip side, let’s hear from the Orange Bowl’s vice director for communications, Larry Wahl:

We’d hope the schools would use all of their tickets. They have a long way to come, but it [Stanford’s sales] is a novelty. [emphasis added]

Clearly, officials are divided on the “what are 9,000 tickets worth” issue. Sounds like we need a basis (or two) for comparison.

How about, say, Stanford’s opponent in the Orange Bowl – Virginia Tech? Virginia Tech had sold only**6,500 of its tickets as of yesterday. Why isn’t the Orange Bowl upset about that number? Virginia Tech has come to the Orange Bowl for three of the past four years and, historically, Hokie fans “buy as many as 10,000 tickets directly from the Orange Bowl or through alternative ticket vendors such as StubHub,” according to VT ticket director Sandy Smith. Hmm…things suddenly don’t look quite as rosy for Stanford, although an unknown number of Stanford fans are likely purchasing tickets through alternative channels as well.

How about compared to Stanford’s ticket sale performance from last year, when it went to the closer, but less prestigious, Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas? Compared to that number, it’s dominating. Last year, total ticket sales failed to top 3,000. In addition, the Orange Bowl’s distance from Stanford’s home base in California hasn’t stopped fans from all over the country from planning to attend: representatives of 43 states have already bought tickets.

So, Stanford is exceeding all expectations or falling short, depending on how you look at it. What would it mean for the school to not sell another ticket? In the case of most schools, it would be bad news bears (possibly even worse than Golden Bears). With most bowls, each school is required to sell at least a certain number of tickets or else pick up the tab for the remaining tickets. That alone can set a school back by a bundle: the University of Connecticut had $2.5 million in unsold tickets as of last Monday. Throw in obligations to book hotels, transport team, staff, and band, and provide meals for all of those groups and the cost spikes further. All of this means that, shockingly, most schools lose money on bowl games. And not just teams that travel great distances to lesser bowls. Florida barely broke even on its 2008 BCS Championship, which was played in-state. Clearing a profit of $47,000 on revenues of $17 million would be a danger sign to any company, especially one as established as Florida football. At least it beats losing money, which is what happened to both Florida and Ohio State in the 2006 BCS Championship.

In Stanford’s case, the school is safe: a long-standing agreement in the PAC-10 means that a school is only responsible for selling the first half of its allotment, with the conference picking up the tab for any unsold tickets beyond the first half. Stanford’s allotment was 17,500 tickets, so with 9,000 tickets sold, it’s out of the danger zone on ticket sales, although other costs could still put the hurt on the school’s finances.

Now, with all of that bowl economics out of the way, let’s look at why 9,000 people are traveling to Miami to root for the Card: it’s been a pretty great year.

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