Did the College Football Playoff system put an unintended dagger into the heart of the Major Bowl games?
For me, this might be the year that I finally give up my “season” tickets to the Fiesta Bowl. No, me and my buddies won’t stop going to the annual event, but the benefits of being a season ticket holder no longer justify paying “face value”. The change to the College Football Playoff system and the National Championship Game could be the final nail in the coffin.
The biggest change that impacts my decision is that we no longer have the ability to purchase Championship game tickets when the game comes to town – including next year on January 11th, 2016, when Glendale hosts the National Championship Game.
You see, under the BCS system that was in place, the Fiesta hosted the Championship Game every four years – in addition to the Fiesta Bowl annually. And because of that, they extended the right to purchase tickets to their season ticket holders. Sure, ticket prices were excessive for a casual fan with no “horse in the race”, but it was still worth it to be able to witness the pinnacle game of the sport with match-ups like Ohio State vs Florida or more recently, Oregon vs Auburn – at face value.
Now, your best option is having the right to purchase tickets to the semi-final games. It’s not clear to me how they sell tickets to the Championship Game.
Owning season tickets wasn’t a no-brainer even if you planned on attending the Bowl every year. The game has historically hosted some of the post-season’s most mediocre match-ups – games that included “bowl-buster” teams like Utah, Pitt, UConn, Boise St. and UCF. None of which, on paper at least, would be a good matchup for their “big-brother” opponents from the Power Conferences.
Before you go off on me, I will say that almost every year, the game is much better than expected with some absolutely incredible games having taken place. All you need to do is look no further than this year’s “non-Power 5” party-crasher, Boise State. The Broncos love the Fiesta Bowl and have provided some electrifying moments and upset wins – including this years’ edition over hometown favorite, UofA.
Not only did Boise St leave the Fiesta with a 3-0 record at the Bowl, (2nd only to Penn State’s 6-0 record at the game) they did it in front of a fan base that, by my estimates, outnumbered the “local” team. At a minimum it was a “too close to call” crowd. Bronco Nation was well represented throughout the stadium – not just in their sold-out allotted section – unlike the Wildcats barely full end zone section.
OK, back to the issue at hand…
It’s not just the Wildcats. Most fan bases at these non-traditional football schools just simply don’t travel as well as the powerhouses. Of course, you’ll get a smattering of rabid fans from any school, but the smaller fan bases have a huge impact on ticket demand.
And these smaller schools lack the history, tradition and pageantry of the larger schools – and that’s what adds to the excitement of witnessing the major teams in person.
With these less-than attractive games, tickets aren’t in demand and are therefore, readily available. In some years, we literally couldn’t give tickets away. For future, if you find yourself in this situation, you might consider donating the tickets to a worthy organization such as ticketsforkids.org or vettix.org. Not only will you be helping someone attend a game that might otherwise be out of reach, you’ll receive a tax deduction that will most likely be worth more than what you can get for the tickets.
What made matters worse this year is that the Fiesta Bowl started selling tickets for less than what the season ticket holders were paying. Granted, there were in different sections, but still. They actually tried to justify it to the season ticket holders with other perks in a letter to members. The letter outlined perks such as:
- Insider Information on the College Football Playoff (Really? Like what?)
- The lowest prices offered for renewable game tickets (notice how they included “renewable”)
- First opportunity to renew and upgrade your tickets (because they know there will be fallout)
- Exclusive renewable access to attend the VIP Stadium Club pregame party (Really? Exclusive rights to pay $100 for a lame under-attended party?)
- and other, if you can believe it, less attractive benefits
On top of all of that, because of the new playoff system, they were forced to move the game to New Years Eve – a time slot that essentially dictates your NYE plans. This may be great for out-of-town fans looking for a complete experience, but not for locals who might have other plans. The NYE time slot has already been established for several of the future games as well – including the first time the Fiesta hosts the Semi-Finals on 12/31/16.
It’s sad really. The loyal, local season ticket fan base has helped to elevate and sustain this event into one of the nation’s best college bowl atmospheres. Now, we’re gouged on ticket prices with no chance of attending the Championship game when it comes to town.
No wonder Tostitos cashed in their chips.
A few years ago, I wrote a letter to the Fiesta Bowl stating my displeasure for yet another issue. University of Phoenix stadium is home to what I believe is one of the greatest tailgating venues in all of football, the Great Lawn. And how did the Bowl leverage this? It was closed to tailgating! It was left uninhabited, patrolled by a couple of security guards who protected it like it was sacred ground. No one could step foot on the plush carpet of lawn. You were relegated to tailgate, literally, at your tailgate on the blacktop. And don’t think of taking up an additional parking spot for your popup.
So, what did they do the following year? They moved the location of their “College Football’s Biggest Party” to the lawn, protected it with covered fencing and charged you to get in to see the team cheerleaders and bands. Good thing they covered the fencing so no one would see the emptiness inside.
Fitting that they actually changed the name to “Fan Fest” this year, since I guess it’s no longer “College Football’s Biggest Party”.
The same goes for their new-ish Stadium Club party – their $100 per ticket bash. This fenced in, covered up designated party zone featuring live music is designed for those out-of-towners with more dollars than sense. I’m OK with this as long as the event is self-sustaining – meaning it isn’t subsidized by ticket prices. The muckety-mucks that buy tickets to this will most likely be corporate types with overblown marketing budgets to entertain other muckety-mucks. Have at it.
The Fiesta Bowl did drop ticket prices this year. A move made necessary to maintain a healthy base of local fans. But even with reduced prices, it just doesn’t make sense to overpay every year. Rarely do I pay $160 per ticket for a concert or other sporting event. Especially when the tickets are being given away. From now on, I’ll take my chances on the secondary market. You can always get into the game – it’s just a matter of seat location and the price you’re willing to pay.
If Penn State is in town, my price threshold goes up. My guess is that most local fans are in the same boat with their favorite team. And granted, there may be a year that the normal Fiesta Bowl will be a big draw that will drive prices up. That’s a bet I’m willing to take.
Of course I’ll give up the ability to purchase semi-final tickets, but a quick check of Seatgeek prior to their kickoffs this year showed that ticket prices were also below face value. My guess here is that fans of the teams in the Semis have a decision to make since travelling to two games is out of reach financially and logistically for most. Will they go to the Semifinal game or do they hope they make it to the Championship Game and splurge? If given the choice, which would you do?
For me, when the Nittany Lions make into the Semis and the Championship game, I’ll add up the money I saved over the years by either using the secondary market or staying home from other games. I’ll justify the higher scalper prices by all of the savings I’ve gained over the years. I’m pretty sure I’ll still be ahead.
So, what can the Fiesta Bowl and the College Football do to save the local fan base and increase season ticket holders? It seems like these bowl games keep adding features to draw more people, which in turn adds more expense. Why not scale back the high-priced (to run), lightly-attended events and therefore cut expenses? This will enable you to drop ticket prices and return to a more traditional college football experience that is accessible to more fans.
My thoughts are:
- Open the Great Lawn to normal tailgating
- Eliminate the “Fan Fest” and have the bands and pep rallies on stage on the Great Lawn for all to see
- Lower Ticket Prices for Members
- Move the date to New Years Day or later
With that, bring on the Cactus Bowl! At $50 per ticket, I don’t care if I give them away or leave early. But in reality, this game has also seen its fair share of premier teams and outstanding contests that have gone down to the wire. Who can forget Texas Tech’s improbable comeback against Minnesota on a bitterly cold evening in 2006? With the on-campus location, tailgating is easy. And for frigid nights like tonight, the bars along Mill Ave are very accessible!