There are lots of different ways to buy tickets to games these days. From brokers on the internet. Via eBay. Outside the stadium doors by way of scalpers.
But the tried and true method of gauging a fanbase’s interest in a bowl game is still a simple check of the number of tickets sold through their favorite school’s box office. And by that measure, Florida fans have not been gobbling up tickets for tonight’s Sugar Bowl game with Louisville.
Not surprisingly, Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel takes Gator fans to task for that:
“Florida coach Will Muschamp says the nation’s economic downturn has played a significant factor in the number of UF tickets sold, but personally I think it’s more of an enthusiasm downturn among Florida fans. How else do you explain Florida selling less tickets than any other bowl team in the SEC? How else do you explain upstart Louisville selling twice as many tickets from its allotment as Florida?
Louisville head coach Charlie Strong, a longtime defensive coordinator at UF, witnessed first-hand the evolution of the UF program. He remembers when the Gators getting invited to the Sugar Bowl constituted a special season. Now, though, a trip to New Orleans is treated like a trip to the bathroom.
‘Florida is a program that has had so much tradition over the last few years,’ Strong says. ‘At Louisville, this is just our second BCS bowl game, so our fans are excited.’
Translation: Florida fans have become spoiled and blasé.”
Bianchi goes on to say that the reputation of “Gator Nation” is bigger than it should be and that Florida fans are “a bit overrated when compared to those at traditional powerhouses like Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska and Texas.”
There are multiple factors involved in this situation that need to be mentioned. One is the economic downturn that Muschamp has mentioned. But the economy hasn’t slowed the ticket-buyers from Louisville. Also, while fans across the nation are staying home and watching games on television more often, Florida had more trouble selling tickets for so-so games this year than most 11-win, top 10-ranked teams would have. (If you looked at the stands in the Swamp during some of UF’s 2012 nonconference games you know what we’re talking about.)
The spoiled factor certainly plays a role as Bianchi suggests. But that happens at a lot of other places, too.
There is one issue, however, that is unique to a handful of big-time football programs of which Florida is one. That’s weather, climate. And, yes, we believe Florida’s place on the US map may exacerbate the school’s problem with ticket sales.
Think of the Pac-12 for a moment. Do that league’s fans have a reputation for being as passionate and loyal as other college fanbases? Absolutely not. Attendance is a struggle for most of the sunny West Coast schools, even when they’re winning. Heck, the Pac-12 plays its conference championship game in on-campus venues and they still can’t sell the thing out.
For years the argument has been made that folks in California and Arizona have more to do in the fall and winter. Well, so do Floridians.
While fans in Tuscaloosa and Columbus and Austin have to deal with cold temperatures and bad weather, most Gator fans living in the Sunshine State still enjoy the warmth of the sun come late-fall and winter. Like their Pac-12 counterparts who can go hiking, camping, surfing or swimming in December or January, Gators fans can hit the beach or enjoy the outdoors in some other way. And the more options a fan has, the less likely he is to buy up expensive ticket to a football game.
Taking the weather thing a step further, most folks in the country would see a trip to New Orleans as a chance to experience warmer weather in January. Florida fans would actually be driving/flying into cooler weather. The temperature at 10am ET in Gainesville was 70 degrees today. In New Orleans, the temperature was 49. So why not just head out to a local sports bar and watch the game on the patio and save a lot of money in the process? (In case you’re wondering, the temperatures in Austin, Tuscaloosa and Columbus at 10 were 36, 42 and 18, respectively.)
Yes, Florida fans have become a bit more fickle than others when it comes to buying football tickets, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. Florida State and Miami fans have never had great reputations for travel, either. The big programs in Florida — like those in California and Arizona — literally have fair-weather fans.
So when you’re trying to explain why a Southern Cal or a Stanford or a Florida can’t sell out a home game against an FCS team, a conference title game in its own venue (that would be Stanford), or a BCS bowl trip, the explanation is simple. The sun got in their eyes.
Sidenote — Here’s the thing with Florida’s poor ticket-buying performance this year. Eventually bowl committees will remember that kind of thing. If the Gators get snubbed in the bowl process next year, there should be no complaining from those folks dressed in blue and orange.