Even with lower ticket prices, Orange Bowl sellout unlikely
By Marilyn Bowden
With a revamped sales team in place at the Orange Bowl for less than half a year, it's too soon to judge results by ticket sales for the Jan. 3 signature game, officials say, but they find early indications encouraging.
"Sales were up 8% over last year before the teams were selected," said Michael Saks, COO of the Orange Bowl Committee, adding that that's the timeframe the local sales team concentrates on. "That's when sales happen in droves. Since we don't control what teams will be selected and how they will sell, for us it's really about the legacy and the brand."
Considering that the new sales force didn't get rolling until August, he said, "we're excited to see what they can do over 12 months."
It's difficult to tell what the final tally of ticket sales will be this year, Mr. Saks said, because activity in the final run-up to the game, this year featuring Stanford and Virginia Tech, is unpredictable. But he estimated 65,000-70,000 of an available 75,000 seats at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, where the Orange Bowl game is now played, will be filled.
A showing of 67,000 for the January 2010 game after a long run of sell-outs prompted the Orange Bowl Committee to hire last June veteran pro sports marketer Dawson Hughes as vice president of ticket sales and operations. His previous employers include the Kansas City Royals and the San Diego Padres.
Mr. Hughes added a group of nine inside sales people "to work our phones and touch the community."
He described his approach as two-pronged, reaching out to both local businesses and the community.
"We want to work from the grassroots level up," he said.
Among Mr. Hughes' initiatives was an adjustment of ticket prices in deference to the current economic climate.
"Our upper-level seats are now $65 each," he said, "the cheapest they have been in a very long time."
Created in 1935 to support an annual football game and surrounding events then known as the Palm Festival, the Orange Bowl Committee has evolved into a not-for-profit volunteer organization supporting more than 15,000 youth football players in eight South Florida counties. It also funds scholarships and community projects in addition to mounting a year-round calendar of events.
Currently, Mr. Saks said, the committee hosts about 100 events a year, 50 to 60 of them during the week of the Orange Bowl Festival.
"What we are trying to do," he said, "is market a product encompassing the week of the game and also what we do throughout the year, and with continued support from the community we will be successful."
The Metro PCS Orange Bowl Basketball Classic last weekend at BankAtlantic Center in Fort Lauderdale "sold better than ever," Mr. Saks said.
"People need to remember that the Orange Bowl is a unique event in that it doesn't have a corporate owner. As a community-based group, we are stewards for the community. We feel we have an obligation to give back, as we do with our youth football program that touches thousands of kids, and we would hope the community would lend their support to us as well."
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