Utah football: Bowl games a hard sell
The official description for Zack Lassiter's job at Utah is that of ticket manager. But in reality, more often than not he feels he is the mastermind of some big game as he works out one ticket issue after another.
"It's like a game of Whack A Mole," he said. "We get one problem taken care of and then another one pops up."
His current biggest dilemma? Convincing Utah fans to buy tickets for the Poinsettia Bowl to watch the Utes play Cal. Both Utah and Cal received 7,500 tickets from the bowl to sell at $45 apiece.
Of those, Lassiter hopes to sell from 3,000 to 4,000 tickets.
It's a decent amount, but certainly not close to the demand of the Dec. 22 Las Vegas Bowl matchup between Oregon State and BYU, which is sold out.
So what gives? Why aren't Utah fans packing their bags and flocking to spend a few December days in warm San Diego to see their Utes play a Pac-10 team?
The reasons given are many.
A combination of difficulty in traveling back to Salt Lake City on Christmas Eve or family plans for the holiday have some fans saying the trip is impossible to make no matter how much they want to go to support the Utes.
"No bowl game should be played between Dec. 23-26," said Utah fan Jeff Hamilton. "Us fans that live for the bowl trip every year can't make it home, when the game is played on the 23rd. This will be the second bowl game I have missed since 1999 and the other was the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas three years ago also played on Dec. 23. You can't make flight plans on Christmas Eve, especially with such short notice and you obviously can't drive."
Other fans, such as Trevor Snarr of Murray, said funds are exhausted from spending money on the Utes' trip to the Sugar Bowl last year.
"I'm trying to be as faithful as I can to my university," said the 2006 graduate. "This year's bowl game, I'm not going to because yes it is too close to Christmas, my budget is tight from last year's expenses and I thought I would go to a bowl game every year."
Lassiter is sympathetic to the fans' plights, recognizing the $45 for tickets is one of the easier expenses in planning a bowl trip. Throw in a couple hundred dollars for airfare, more for hotel, food and rental cars and it's easy for a weekend to turn into a several thousand dollar expense for a family.
"A lot of people would love to go, but I hear the date is not an ideal thing for them," he said. "I always believe when a trip turns from a drive to a flight, it always makes a big difference in affordability and how any schools will travel."
Cal, which is located about 500 miles from San Diego, has sold a little more than 4,000 of its tickets, according to school officials. Bruce Binkowski, the executive director of the Poinsettia Bowl, said about 30,000 to 35,000 fans are expected for Wednesday's game.
While Binkowski said he would be "very pleased" with that attendance figure, the bowl is looking to move the game a day earlier to give fans more time to get home for Christmas.
Playing so close to Christmas isn't the only issue. Bowl games simply don't seem to be enticing enough for Utah fans to fork out large sums of money.
Last year for the Sugar Bowl played on Jan. 2, the Utes sold less than 10,000 tickets to Utah fans. In 2007, an estimated 4,000 Utah fans were on hand to see the Utes beat Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl but less than 3,000 tickets were sold by the school.
However, bowl tickets aren't just a hard sell for the Utes. According to a report in the San Diego Union Tribune, 200,000 to 300,000 tickets go unsold every year for the 34 bowl games.
The paper reported schools lost a combined $15.53 million in unsold tickets.
While the Mountain West Conference pools its bowl money together and divides the money so bowl-bound teams don't lose money, Lassiter said it was important for fans to buy tickets from the schools rather than the bowl to help cover the loss of tickets. The problem is, there are few takers for those tickets as many are probably in agreement with Utah fan Keith Joseph.
"Many of us probably figure we went all out last year and seeing that San Diego is a 12-hour drive and it's so close to Christmas, we'll probably take a pass and watch it on ESPN HD," he said.
No. 23 Utah vs. Cal, Wednesday, 6 p.m., in San Diego, ESPN