December 14, 2007
There are still plenty of good tickets for Fiesta Bowl, really
Daily Mail Sports Editor

Ticket sales at West Virginia University for the upcoming Tostitos Fiesta Bowl are certainly not moving quite as fast as quarterback Pat White.

WVU's ticket allotment Jan. 2 game in Glendale, Ariz., against BCS No. 4 Oklahoma is 17,500.

West Virginia Deputy Athletic Director Mike Parsons said Thursday that the school has sales and commitments for "over 9,000 at this point."

Parsons that that number includes tickets that are reserved for the WVU band, players, coaches and official university traveling party. He said that number will range from 1,200-1,500.

Tickets are priced at $135, the norm for a Bowl Championship Series game for the 2007 season.

"There's no way to gauge, really, where we're going to go (in sales)," Parsons said. "If you look at last year's sales (for the Gator Bowl), those did increase the closer we got to the game.

"They spiked in the second and third week of sales. So, we're hopeful this will do the same, but there's no way to tell."

Parsons concedes, however, that as WVU heads to a bowl for a school-record sixth straight season, the Mountaineers are dealing with one major obstacle -- the distance from the Mountain State to the Phoenix area.

It's a 30-hour drive, and most remaining round-trip airfares are above $600.

WVU also is dealing with a fan base that's still recovering from the shock of losing 13-9 to biggest rival and 28-point underdog Pitt at home on Dec. 1. That stunning regular-season finale cost the Mountaineers a berth in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 in New Orleans.

Asked about the ticket-buying mindset in the wake of the defeat, Parsons said he doesn't believe the loss that sent WVU (10-2) plummeting in the polls is the major issue in sluggish bowl sales.

Some WVU fans anticipated a trip to the BCS championship before the Pitt game and pre-booked packages to New Orleans -- and cannot get refunds.

"Really, I don't know that the issue is anything as much as it is the fact that the Fiesta Bowl is not a trip that's drivable," Parsons said. "All of the bowls we've played in recently have been something our fans could get to more easily."

West Virginia has built a solid reputation in selling tickets to bowl games.

Parsons said WVU took about 20,000 fans to the school's first BCS game appearance two years ago -- the Sugar Bowl in Atlanta. The Sugar Bowl's home is New Orleans, but the game couldn't be played there in 2005 because of devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.

The school allotment was 15,000, but the Mountaineers were able to "get our hands on additional tickets," Parsons said.

The veteran WVU administrator said prior to that Sugar Bowl win over home-state Southeastern Conference champion Georgia that he didn't "recall us going to a bowl and tickets being this tight."

Parsons has been on the WVU athletics staff since 1979 - two years prior to retired Coach Don Nehlen's first postseason game in Atlanta's Peach Bowl.

WVU's Sugar Bowl tickets were priced at $115, $95 and $85. The five-game BCS has raised prices in the two years since then. Gator Bowl tickets cost $60 and $40 last year.

"The cost of a ticket on any of these bowl games is not an issue for most people," Parsons said. "It's getting there and the cost of staying there."

Last year, the Mountaineers sold out a 15,750 allotment for the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., and Gator President Rick Catlett estimated that including local sales to WVU partisans, the Mountaineers had more than 20,000 fans in Alltel Stadium.

In 2002, an estimated 35,000 Mountaineers helped fill the first Continental Tire Bowl, and the next year WVU sold 24,600 Gator tickets. A return to the Gator the following season sold less than half that (about 10,600) -- no surprise for a second straight trip to the same location.

Parsons said WVU is making special appeals to its alumni fan bases in the southwestern U.S. and California and doing e-mails to season-ticket holders asking fans to make their purchases.

The Mountaineers would likely have had no difficulty selling their allotment had they gone to the Sugar (New Orleans) or Orange Bowl (Miami). Both are within reasonable driving reach.

The teams in the National Championship Game are allotted only 16,000 tickets each. Had WVU beaten Pitt to gain a berth in the title game, there's no question that tickets would have sold out quickly.

The university's alumni Web page reports 807 living alumni in Arizona. There are 2,871 WVU alumni in California, most in the southern part of the state. In Florida, however, WVU has 5,376 alumni.

WVU may have faced the same ticket-sales issue it does now had the Mountaineers played in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The team ticket allotments there are 25,000.

"Our focus here," Parsons said, "has always been that the Fiesta Bowl is a reward for our football team, which has had a great season. The Fiesta is one of the best bowls around, the most prestigious, and certainly one of the best organized.

"The (University of Phoenix) stadium is certainly unique. It's special. It's just a great bowl and we're thrilled to be going there."

Parsons said WVU is responsible for any of the tickets it does not sell. That money would become part of the Mountaineers' bowl expenses.

From the Big East Conference's BCS slice of more than $18 million, West Virginia receives $2 million as the league's BCS game participant. Under the Big East revenue sharing plan, WVU also is paid a "mileage stipend" of $425,600 for a Fiesta berth.

"We've just got to see what happens," Parsons said. "We do know that sales jumped quite a bit in the second and third weeks (of sales) last year. Maybe that will happen here. There's no way to know whether it will equate to the same."