When the “Great Recession” wracked America, the second-tier college football bowl games seemed to be endangered. With disposable income so low, how could fans afford to travel to far-off locales to watch their favorite teams play in what amounted to meaningless exhibitions?
But only one bowl (the International Bowl) has gone under since the recession hit and the NCAA sanctioned two more bowls for this season (the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium and the TicketCity Bowl at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas), bringing the total number of bowls to 35 — double the number of bowls that were played just 18 years ago. The number of bowls assures that almost every Division I team with a record of .500 or better plays a postseason game.
Bowl season gets underway Saturday, December 18 with a trio of games (New Mexico Bowl, uDrove Humanitarian Bowl and R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl) and, in what may be a good sign for the economy in general, fans seem ready to shell out some bucks to see the non-BCS tilts.
The organizers of the oldest of the non-major bowls, the Hyundai Sun Bowl, announced Monday, December 6 that the Notre Dame-Miami game Friday, December 31 was already sold out — the fastest sellout in the history of the game by 15 days. The Sun Bowl is played in the 50,426-seat Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, TX.
Such success is not surprising given the tradition-rich nature of the schools and the matchup — college football fans who came of age in the 1980s fondly recall the bitter “Catholics vs. Convicts” clashes — but other lower profile games are also faring well in the days and weeks leading up to kickoff.
“Every bowl game seems to have sold real well this year,” Texas Tickets president Scott Baima told TicketNews. “That’s usually not the case, so I’m kind of surprised. I think [the economy is] starting to pick back up.”
Back in the pre-BCS days, the Cotton Bowl used to actually take place in the Cotton Bowl and was one of the five major New Years Day bowls, but it has a juicy matchup at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington Friday, January 7 with Texas A&M — a former member of the defunct Southwest Conference, whose champion automatically advanced to the Cotton Bowl — opposing LSU, which displayed a flair for the dramatic this year by winning six games by a touchdown or less. The cheapest Cotton Bowl ticket as of early this morning, Thursday December 16, was a $211 upper reserved seat.
North Carolina State fans have already bought more than 8,500 of the Wolfpack’s 13,500-seat allotment to the Champs Sports Bowl against West Virginia Tuesday, December 28. In addition, the News & Observer reports that 37 percent of all tickets purchased through Ticketmaster have been by North Carolina residents.
The Texas Bowl is closing in on a sellout of 70,000-seat Reliant Stadium in Houston thanks in large part to fans of Baylor, which will be making its first bowl appearance in 15 years when it takes on Illinois Wednesday, December 29. Baylor has already sold out of its 12,000-ticket allotment and only 10,000 seats remain overall.
The Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN, which will be played at 69,143-seat LP Field, is expected to sell out thanks to the presence of Tennessee, which sold all of its 16,000 tickets within 24 hours of learning it would face North Carolina on Thursday, December 30.
Almost 30,000 tickets to the Pinstripe Bowl had been sold more than a month before the inaugural game Thursday, December 30 between Syracuse — located just four hours north of the Bronx — and Kansas State at 54,201-seat Yankee Stadium.
The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Sunday, January 9 features Nevada, whose upset of Boise State Thanksgiving weekend ended the Broncos’ national title hopes, against Boston College, which is appearing in a bowl for the 12th straight year. Nevada has already sold its allotment of 15,369 tickets to the game at 40,184-seat AT&T Park in San Francisco and expects as many as 20,000 fans to attend the bowl. Bowl executive director Gary Cavalli told the Nevada Appeal that more than 34,000 tickets have been sold and he is confident a sellout will happen.