With nearly a month until the game even happens, Mississippi State has gone through just over half of its allotment of 15,000 tickets to the Gator Bowl, including all of the club level seats.
That’s the glass half full.
When MSU went to Jacksonville two years ago, it not only sold its entire allotment before the Bulldog fans even knew which bowl they were going to, but had to purchase extra tickets to accommodate the maroon-clad travelers who wanted to be a part of the game.
Now, MSU has close to half of its allotment remaining unsold. If MSU didn’t sell another ticket after today, the athletic department would be on the hook for a cool half a million dollars.
The word allotment, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Bulldog Club and Ticket Operations Mike Richey said, may not be the best word to describe MSU’s ticket situation. The Gator Bowl doesn’t just give out 15,000 tickets to the school. MSU has to buy those tickets, whether the fans choose to or not.
“I think the most important thing is our fans understanding that what we have, we pay for,” Richey said. “If tickets are 65 dollars apiece and we have 500 that aren’t sold, that’s 32,000 dollars.”
While MSU footing a bill for unsold tickets is less than ideal, it’s only one of the problems for State fans, and maybe not even the biggest one.
Over the past several years, MSU has garnered a reputation as a fan base which travels exceptionally well, and they’ve earned it, too. Even back in 2007, Bulldogs packed out the Liberty Bowl. When it came to selection time in 2010, MSU was able to point to a big crowd in ’07, full stadiums for home games and 15,000-plus tickets reserved by the time Selection Sunday got underway, all of which helped MSU move up the selection ladder over other SEC teams.
“It’s really important,” Richey said of MSU’s reputation for travel. “It helped us for sure two years ago when we could say that we were sold out before the announcement. I think it helped us last year, too.”
Because, yes, last year was again strong for MSU, selling out the full allotment of 12,000 tickets for the Music City Bowl.
Take all of that, add in an 8-4 regular season record, and MSU found itself again selected for a New Year’s Day bowl game in Florida, over teams with records just as good or close to it who finished the season on more positive notes.
Why? Largely because MSU has a record of traveling well. Of filling stadiums, hotels and restaurants.
“Being able to show that you can have that impact on the stadium and on that city is important,” Richey said. “In 2010, we had a New Year’s Eve event that was so packed you couldn’t get even get in. I think they were astounded at what we were able to do. I think that played a lot into their decision to bring us back.”
But now, the present is far behind the past and MSU’s stellar track record. The 2012 season may have ended on a rough stretch, but if MSU fans want to have the same advantage in bowl selection in the future, they have to support their team and school in a year where, despite having their best record in a decade, they may not feel as inclined to do so.
MSU’s sterling reputation is on the line this postseason, and it has nothing to with quarterbacks or linebackers.
The pecking order in the SEC, Richey said, could turn against MSU if it can’t prove it can consistently travel well.
“If you consider what happened with the 10-win teams this year, if you were to change that scenario and say there were two teams that were 10-2 and six teams that were 8-4, which is entirely possible in this conference, absolutely that would play a huge role in it, especially when you’re talking about the Florida games,” Richey said.
Of course, the problem isn’t just people going, either.
What was rarely an issue in the ‘90s has become a massive problem not just for MSU but for institutions across the country, Richey said.
Secondary markets. StubHub, TicketMaster and anyone else who sells tickets for far below the listed price.
If someone can get a $65 ticket for $8, why wouldn’t they?
After all, stadiums still have butts in seats and local business owners see plenty of extra faces.
Assistant Athletic Director for Ticket Operations John King said it’s not quite that easy.
“If most of those buy from other sources and we can’t get through our allotment, it still creates that perception that MSU can’t sell tickets,” he said.
And in the bowl business, perception is important.
Richey joked the price of a ticket online for the Orange Bowl now is probably no more expensive than it was in the 1960s, just because of the boom of secondary markets.
Not all colleges have adapted as well as MSU has.
“The issue of universities trying to sell out their allotments is something everyone is facing,” Richey said. “We have a lot of folks who, just out of generosity, they’ll buy tickets and not go, because they know it’s important to us. People willing to do that makes us a little more unique than other schools out there.”
Understanding the investment a trip to a bowl game requires – hotel, food, gas, tickets and possibly taking days off of work – MSU has made an effort to reward those who do purchase tickets for the week in Florida, or where ever the bowl may be.
The school awarded Bulldog Club points to those who bought tickets the last two years, offering a point for every ticket, roughly a $100 dollar value on a $65 ticket.
This year, the Bulldog Club decided to double the incentive, offering two lifetime points per ticket, roughly equivalent to having donated close to $250 dollars to the Bulldog Club.
Good timing, too, as re-seating for football is coming soon with the expansion of Davis Wade Stadium.
The key for Mississippi State now is to sell tickets to the Gator Bowl and create another atmosphere like it did two years ago in Jacksonville.
“It goes back to what you can show the cities and bowl games,” Richey said.
As learned on New Year’s Day 2011, pack some sunscreen.