Bowls struggling to sell tickets

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Missouri didn't reach its goal of getting into a BCS bowl and was headed to the desert to face a 7-5 team that had lost its final three games of the season.

Sensing potential apathy for a bowl against a ho-hum opponent played halfway across the country, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel pleaded with Tigers fans to buy tickets to the Insight Bowl.

His ploy seems to have worked; Insight Bowl officials say they're on a record pace for the Dec. 28 game between Missouri and Iowa at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium.

"It's always a tough climate, especially with the economy the way it is right now," said Adam Lehe, ticket manager for the Insight Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and BCS national championship game. "It's not always the No. 1 priority and getting the people to travel and make the financial and time commitment, we appreciate everything everyone has done."

Some of the other bowls aren't having as much luck -- no matter what the coaches or schools have done.

A glut of choices -- 35 games this season -- a still-sputtering economy, some long-distance travel and a handful of less-than-exciting matchups has made selling tickets even to some of the bigger bowls a difficult proposition.

One peculiarly tough sell had been the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C.

East Carolina, despite a 6-6 season, gobbled up its allotment of tickets and filled the team hotel within a couple of days of the selection show.

Maryland? The Terps had a hard time drawing at College Park this season and it continued with the Military Bowl, which will be played at RFK Stadium, about 20 miles from campus.

Coach Ralph Friedgen made an impassioned plea to fans to buy tickets and the school hit Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to boost sales. It helped, but the Atlantic Coast Conference Terps were in danger of being outdrawn by a Conference USA team with a .500 record from another state.

"The dilemma we're in right now is our fans need to come out and support us," Friedgen said not long after the bowl announcement. "I think we've got a chance to send a message to these people that turned us down. This is right in our back yard, and East Carolina's going to show up. And if we really care about our football program, our fans need to show up."

The plea seems to have worked. As of Wednesday, Maryland had sold all but 1,500 of its ticket allotment.

Georgia Tech has gone the full used-car salesman route for the Dec. 27 Independence Bowl.

The school, in honor of its 14th consecutive bowl appearance, offered $14 tickets to the game in Shreveport, La., against Air Force. The game isn't that far away and will feature the nation's top two rushing teams, but fans have been unimpressed enough that the university extended the deal until Christmas in hopes of spurring sales.

"With Christmas around the corner, tickets make for perfect gifts or stocking stuffers," associate athletic director Wayne Hogan said in a school news release.

Even the BCS bowls aren't immune.

The Fiesta Bowl has a nontraditional matchup between BCS regular Oklahoma and Connecticut, and while it'll likely do well at the box office -- it always seems to -- both schools are coming up short.

Oklahoma was well short of selling its allotment earlier this week and UConn was even worse, with only about 4,000 tickets sold.

Part of it for Huskies' fans is certainly the long distance to Arizona, but also money; the cheapest ticket offered through the school is over $100 and many fans have been discouraged by the travel costs and options offered by the school.

"Cater to the fat cats, leave the rest of us behind," one fan wrote on a Hartford Courant fan page. "I'm shopping on my own now, but might be spending New Year's in CT after all. Disappointing."

It's not all doom and gloom.

The BCS national championship, Rose and Sugar bowls are predictably sold out. There's been a few surprises, too.

The Cotton Bowl sold out within minutes of the teams being announced. The Armed Forces Bowl just up the road in Dallas was a sellout before the teams were even known and SMU playing in it only enhanced the desire for tickets.

The Music City Bowl, featuring in-state favorite Tennessee against North Carolina, sold out within days. The Sun Bowl sold out in record time for the matchup between Notre Dame and Miami and Baylor fans have had a huge response to the Bears' first appearance since 1994 in the Texas Bowl.

Even the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is doing well: Nevada sold out its allotment of 11,000 in two days and asked for more for the Jan. 9 game in San Francisco against Boston College.

"We are blown away by the response," Nevada athletic director Cary Groth said.

Others wish they could say the same.