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Utah football: Fans may be traveled out – Sun Bowl matchup a poor seller

Published December 29, 2011 12:20 am

College football • One reason may be that fans used up all their money traveling to regular-season road games.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

El Paso, Texas • Utah's first bowl game as a Pac-12 team might be a milestone for the program, but the game itself isn't exactly a hot ticket for fans.

The Utes sold just 1,500 tickets of their 8,000 allotment for the New Year's Eve game against Georgia Tech.

According to Zack Lassiter, Utah's Associate Athletic Director who oversees ticket sales, the amount of tickets sold is the lowest estimated since the Utes traveled to the 2006 Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth to play Tulsa.

Lassiter, who said the Utes' remaining tickets will be donated to charitable organizations in the El Paso area, believes the game is a poor draw for Utah fans because many traveled to regular-season games instead of saving their money for a bowl game.

The Utes had more than 5,000 fans at their game at USC, more than 3,000 fans at Cal and several thousand at Pitt.

By the time Utah's bowl game against Georgia Tech was announced, Lassiter said he heard from many fans that they were tapped out of their football funds.

"There was so much excitement and curiosity about the Pac-12 games, I heard from a lot of fans they weren't planning to go to Utah's bowl game no matter where it was," he said. "We had a lot more support on the road this year than we have had before."

Lassiter believes the Utes could have sold more tickets if Utah had played in a destination that was drivable, such as San Diego or Las Vegas.

While Texas might be a hotbed for recruiting, it simply isn't on the hot list for fans, he said.

"Whenever we go to Texas, we expect something similar," he said. "We don't have as many alums in Texas like we do in San Diego or the Bay area either, and very few are going to make that drive down there."

According to bowl officials, Georgia Tech sold only about 2,200 tickets, making this year's matchup one of the lowest sellers the Sun Bowl has had in recent years.

In contrast, last year's Notre Dame-Miami matchup scored a $24.6 million economic boost to the El Paso area, according to a study conducted by Texas Perspectives, Inc.

A record 54,021 attended the game and a record 16,000 out-of-town visitors descended upon the El Paso area for the event, which helped boost the local economy.

In 2009, 53,713 attended Oklahoma's 31-27 win over Stanford in the Sun Bowl.

Kruger out

Utah's defense won't be at full-strength against Georgia Tech as junior starting tackle Dave Kruger is out for the game due to an infection in his leg, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Wednesday.

Kruger has started 10 games this year and had 22 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack.

"Nobody is more competitive than Dave Kruger; he loves football and comes out every day and practices hard, so it's tough on him," Whittingham said. "But he'll be back and hopefully he'll have a great senior year."

The depth the Utes have along their defensive line has been a strength this season, and now with Kruger out, Whittingham is calling on senior Tevita Finau, senior James Aiono and junior Star Lotulelei to make up for Kruger's absence.

The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Aiono will start in Kruger's spot.

Passing on advice

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson knows as well as anyone the challenges that await Norm Chow as Hawaii's head football coach.

Johnson was the Warriors' offensive coordinator from 1987 to 1994.

"The big key is keeping the local kids at home," Johnson said. "That will be key for Norm and I know they are excited there to have him. That is a job I know he has looked at through the years and I'm really happy for him. It's well deserved and I think he'll do a good job there."

This and that

Players from Utah and Georgia Tech visited Fort Bliss and had dinner with U.S. Army troops Wednesday. … Offensive lineman Miles Mason didn't practice Wednesday and remains questionable for Saturday's game.