Friday, December 21, 2012

Fact or Fiction?: UConn Only Had 3,000 Fans At The 2011 Fiesta Bowl

Dooley's Ruling:  FICTION

Had the statement read "UConn only sold a little less than 3,000 tickets of the university's allotment of 17,500 tickets to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma", then that would be fact.  Unfortunately, common perception with sports fans across our country is that the University of Connecticut only had 3,000 in TOTAL Glendale, Arizona on New Year's Day to watch the Huskies first ever BCS bowl game.  Before I continue any further, I want to show you two photos that I have come across.  They were snapped off by a fan inside University of Phoenix Stadium the night of the Fiesta Bowl that pitted Connecticut against Oklahoma.  I like these photos because they are both taken from the same vantage point, behind an end zone that splits the stadium at a perfect horizontally symmetric angle.

First, to the right of the photographer, you can see the "Oklahoma side" of the stadium...

Second, to the left of the photographer, you can see the "Connecticut side" of the stadium...

After viewing both "sides" of the stadium, now try to tell me that UConn only had 3,000 fans in attendance.

On the Oklahoma side, you can clearly see waves of red in the lower tier and filtering up into the upper tiers of the stadium.  But that is what you would expect from Oklahoma, right?  Sooner fans have a pretty good reputation as a traveling fanbase and it surprises nobody to think that Oklahoma had 15-20,000 fans inside the stadium that night.  But would it surprise you to learn that Oklahoma had similar difficulties selling their 17,500 allotment?  The Big 12 bought 10,403 unsold tickets for roughly $1.9 million to offset any losses that Oklahoma would have incurred.  Oklahoma still had to shell out an additional $337,080 to purchase 1,530 unsold tickets.  Using simple math estimates, Oklahoma came up 11,933 tickets short of selling out their 17,500 allotment.  In other words, the school sold 5,567 tickets.  Does it look like there is 5,567 Oklahoma fans in red inside University of Phoenix Stadium that night to you?  I don't think so.

On the Connecticut side, you can clearly see waves of blue and white in the lower tier and filtering up into the upper tiers of the stadium.  But this is NOT what you expected to see from Connecticut, right?  Why is that?  Because Connecticut fans have been branded as a poor traveling fanbase by several media outlets and fans across the country.  Most of this reputation stems directly from Connecticut's "poor showing" at the Fiesta Bowl.  Granted, Connecticut only sold 2,771 tickets out of their allotment of 17,500, resulting in the university absorbing 14,729 unsold tickets worth $2,924,385. But unlike Oklahoma, Connecticut did not receive additional money from the Big East to help offset losses that the school incurred from their unsold tickets.  So, as a result, UConn's loss of roughly $2.9 million on the game made national headlines and became the punchline of many college football fans' jokes.  Oklahoma, thanks in large part from their Big 12 bailout, turned a profit of $9,350 on the game.  I want you to take another good look at the "Connecticut side" picture again.  Does it look like there are 2,771 Connecticut fans in blue inside University of Phoenix Stadium?  I also don't think so.

So, if Oklahoma only sold 2,796 more tickets to the game than UConn, why are UConn fans unfairly branded as the ones who don't travel well to bowl games?  Both schools priced their tickets and ticket packages to this game well above the average cost of a ticket on other various ticket websites, like StubHub, partly because the schools had to buy their allotment of tickets at a higher cost.  If you could buy a decent seat location ticket on StubHub for $20, why would you pay $111 for upper deck corner seating?  You wouldn't.  And fans from both Connecticut and Oklahoma didn't.  There is no way of knowing how many tickets that were purchased from online ticket sites like StubHub were by Oklahoma fans and how many were purchased by Connecticut fans.  But you can be sure that the majority of the 67,232 tickets purchased for the game were through much cheaper ticket agencies and not through the more expensive packages offered by the two competing schools.

A pessimist might ask "hey Dooley, how do you know all of the fans in blue are UConn fans?" and it's a good point, I don't know for certain.  But there is somewhat of a double-standard here.  Oklahoma obviously has a much longer history in bowl games, especially bowl games of this stature, and have had many nationally televised football games in the past several decades.  Because of the history, fans watching on TV across the country automatically assume that when they see sections painted in Sooner crimson, that they are Sooner fans.  Connecticut football does not have that same history of nationally televised games and recognizable painted fans.  So, college football fans who do not know anything about Connecticut football read headlines that tell them that UConn sold 2,771 tickets and lost close to $3 million at the Fiesta Bowl and jump to a quick and unfair conclusion that "Connecticut doesn't travel".  The average college football fan who does not know anything about Connecticut football fails to realize that UConn's costs and subsequent losses were driven up by the fact that the band and equipment had to be flown to Arizona (Oklahoma bussed theirs at a much cheaper cost because of the closer location) and that both schools sold similarly disappointing ticket amounts but Oklahoma received a substantial and very generous bailout while Connecticut did not.  The average college football fan who does not know anything about Connecticut football reads the headline stating what UConn lost on the game and the headline stating that UConn lost the game and assumes that UConn couldn't have had more than 3,000 fans at the game.  Conversely, Oklahoma fans have been "grandfathered" in by the average college football fan who does not support the Sooners and the assumption is that they traveled well to the game.

It is very possible that Oklahoma had the support of more of their fans than Connecticut had at the game.  In fact, it is probable given the closer distance and longer history.  But there is no question that UConn was well represented inside University of Phoenix Stadium that night.  2,771 seats in a 63,400 seat stadium would only fill a few lower tier sections.  As you can see in the photograph above, there is a significant overflow of blue and white in all tiers of that side of the stadium and are not confined to just a few sections.  What is more likely: a school that has historically traveled very well to basketball Final Fours really only had 3,000 fans at the Fiesta Bowl OR thousands of UConn fans searched the internet to price their own ticket packages and flights at a much cheaper cost than what was being offered through the school?

I'll let the visual evidence presented above and common sense economics speak for themselves.


  1. I went to that game and live in Oklahoma but big UCONN fan!!! and talked to other UConn fans there and they all went the same route I di Stub hub $25 a ticket... try to go thru the University but at $160+++ per ticket.... I went with the the lower price by a mile

  2. Good post. . .worth pointing out that the reason so many cheap tickets were available on secondary market was b/c the BCS championship game (Oregon-Auburn) was hosted by the Fiesta Bowl that year and you HAD to buy the Fiesta Bowl ticket to get the BCS champ game ticket. Sort of like NFL teams making season ticket holders buy exhibition game tickets.