This college football season, East Carolina (5-7) fell one victory shy of reaching its sixth consecutive bowl game. However, that’s not stopping the Pirates from selling bowl tickets.
ECU’s Pirate Club is selling tickets to what it’s calling the “2011 Virtual Bowl.” While ECU won’t be among the 70 schools taking the field for a game this bowl season, the school is urging fans to buy $50 “tickets” as part of a fund-raising campaign through December 23.
An e-mail to Pirate Club members states: “Our challenge will be to sell more tickets than our bowl-bound Conference USA opponents and bowl-bound teams from the Big East.”
Five of the Pirates’ fellow Conference USA members reached bowl games, as did five Big East schools. The Pirates have been eyeing a move to the Big East as part of that conference’s expansion and realignment, but they have yet to receive an invitation.
Mark Wharton, an assistant athletic director at ECU, told TicketNews that the school tried the same thing in 2003 when the Pirates weren’t in a bowl game, and they raised $21,000.
“For five years in a row, we’ve gone bowling, and there’s a lot of excitement toward next season. So we’re just trying to keep the momentum going,” Wharton said.
ECU is pursuing Virtual Bowl ticket sales in an environment where schools often struggle to sell ticket allotments for real bowl games. Bowl-bound schools occasionally end up buying back unsold tickets from their athletic departments, as some fans instead turn to the secondary market for bowl ticket deals.
The payouts from bowls are split among a school’s conference, so once tickets are bought back and travel expenses factored in, many schools wind up losing hundreds of thousands of dollars — sometimes millions — on a bowl trip. For example, the University of Connecticut lost about $1.6 million on its trip to the 2011 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which the team also lost.
East Carolina won’t have to worry about either kind of loss this year.
Virtual Bowl ticket purchases are tax deductible, and they earn priority points for tickets to actual ECU events. Additionally, all proceeds go toward funding a new basketball practice facility and an ECU Hall of Fame, scheduled to open in August 2013.
“There is really no risk, and we give our fans, who are passionate about our program, a chance to contribute,” Wharton said.