San Diego • Both Utah State and Northern Illinois were road warriors this year, going undefeated on the road in their respective conferences during the regular season.
But even road warriors can have a tough time getting their fans to fly on the holidays.
Qualcomm had big patches of empty seats Thursday night at the Poinsettia Bowl, not unexpected for two teams well over an easy day's drive to San Diego. The Aggies distributed or sold nearly 2,000 of their 3,000-ticket allotment, school officials said, while the Huskies managed to get out 1,200.
The bowl's attendance was 23,408, an all-time low in its nine-year history.
The biggest problem, Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes said, was the date. He estimated the Aggies could've moved up to three times as many tickets had the game been on the Thursday before Christmas, as it usually is.
"We knew it was going to be struggle," Barnes said of playing the day after Christmas. "Our athletes have had a great experience, and that part has been wonderful. But that's certainly not what we were hoping for."
There may have been a time when both schools were on the hook for many more tickets. But recent trends have seen more bowls reduce the number of tickets the schools are required to sell.
In the Poinsettia Bowl's case, the allotments have been 3,000 for several years with schools Mountain West, which bowl officials consider to be the "anchor" conference of the game.
"We want to sell tickets, but we also want to be good partners with the Mountain West," bowl spokesman Mark Neville said. "It works for them and it works for us. It's something we're comfortable with."
While ticket revenue still forms the base of the money the bowls earn, recent years have seen an increased emphasis on TV-friendly matchups in addition to relative proximity. Both Barnes and Neville said in a perfect world, the bowls and locations would be in a perfect window for everyone to get there.
As it is, the Poinsettia Bowl markets aggressively in the San Diego area. And the schools hope their fans aren't attached at being home for the holidays.