The Ohio State football team sold only 7,500 tickets of the 12,750 it was allotted for the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2, in Jacksonville, Fla., but the Buckeyes weren’t the only Big Ten team that failed to sell its bowl-game ticket allotment.
The Big Ten conference sent 10 football teams to the postseason in 2011-12 — more than any Football Bowl Subdivision conference in the country. However, the on-field achievements of the respective teams during the regular season weren’t necessarily backed by each schools’ supporters as only Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin sold out their ticket allotments for their respective bowls.
Even OSU’s rival to the north was unable to sell out their ticket allotment to a Bowl Championship Series bowl.
The Lantern contacted all 10 Big Ten athletic departments whose football teams participated in bowl games to compile ticket sale information, which each school provided.
The Boilermakers sold 5,425 tickets after being given 5,000 for their appearance, and eventual victory, in the Little Caesars Bowl on Dec. 27., in Detroit, Mich. The Wildcats sold all 12,000 of the tickets it had to sell for its Dec. 31 appearance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, Texas, and Wisconsin sold each of 24,848 tickets it was allotted for the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2., in Pasadena, Calif.
Rich Scarcella, a sports writer for the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., and the longest-tenured Penn State football beat writer in the country, said he was surprised to hear about Northwestern’s turnout.
“Wisconsin selling out — I think most teams going to the Rose Bowl are going to sell out. Purdue (fans) had a short drive to Detroit and they didn’t really have to sell that many tickets,” Scarcella said. “Northwestern’s the one that I can’t put my head around. I’m not sure what to make of that.”
The Wildcats lost to Texas A&M, 33-22, at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.
Michigan claimed a 23-20 win against Virginia Tech on Jan. 3 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La., but sold only 15,000 of the 17,500 tickets it had to offer its supporters for the Bowl Championship Series triumph.
OSU football historian Jack Park told The Lantern that he was surprised the Wolverines did not exhaust their tickets for the game.
“That’s very interesting,” Park said. “I would never have guessed that Michigan would not have sold their allotment.”
Park said the lengthening of the college football bowl season could be to blame for the recent decline in ticket sales.
“One thing that I think contributes to that a little bit … it used to be that games like (the Sugar Bowl) were always played on New Year’s Day. And the only exception would be … if New Year’s came on a Sunday and the game would be played on the Monday after, which was a holiday,” Park said. “So, people could go to those games. Students could go to those games and get back to campus for class.”
The other seven Big Ten teams that competed in postseason play, including OSU, ran a deficit, combining to leave 28,350 tickets unsold.
The Iowa Hawkeyes used “about 7,000” of the 11,000 tickets it was allotted for the Insight Bowl, which it played against Oklahoma in Tempe, Ariz., Iowa athletic ticket manager Pam Finke told The Lantern in an email.
Illinois reported only 2,600 of the 8,000 tickets it was allocated for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31 in San Francisco, Calif., were sold.
Penn State sold 4,200 tickets for the TicketCity Bowl against Houston in Dallas, Texas, leaving 1,800 unsold.
Bud Meredith, director of ticket operations at PSU, pointed to the economic conditions as a possible explanation for poor ticket sales across the conference.
“I would link all of it to the economy,” Meredith said. “Even our traveling tour groups were down this year.”
Michigan State and Nebraska both played on the Monday holiday after New Year’s, but that didn’t help them sell their full allotment of tickets.
The Spartans, which lost the Big Ten Football Championship Game to Wisconsin, 42-39, and posted an 11-3 overall record in 2011-12, sold only 6,500 of 11,500 tickets they were allotted for the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. The Cornhuskers sold only 8,100 of 12,500 tickets for the Capital One Bowl in Orlanda, Fla.
“Those two teams especially, that surprised me,” Scarcella said of the Spartans’ and Cornhuskers’ unsold tickets.
“Nebraska hasn’t played a bowl game in Florida in a number of years and Michigan State had such a good season that you would think that (their fans) would travel.”
Scarcella said the strength of the Big Ten has no relationship to the seats left vacant at bowl games. He pointed to the poor economy and the number of bowl games as the reason for disinterest.
“I don’t know if you can paint a brush over every number,” Scarcella said. “I think some of those numbers were probably expected. A lot of the numbers are down for most bowl games, not just in the Big Ten. The market is oversaturated, the economy is not great and unless people have a compelling reason to travel to a game between Christmas and New Year’s, they aren’t going to.”
“There’s so many teams in the bowl games now,” he said. “And how many times do we see interim coaches coaching the games because the top coach has either been fired or has left for another job? Things have changed quite a bit.
The Big Ten did not immediately respond to The Lantern‘s request for comment regarding member universities’ unsold bowl tickets.