For the last six years, packing up the car and heading South for a few days has become a holiday ritual for Virginia Tech alum Mike Fitzgerald and a few of his maroon-and-orange crazed buddies.
The tradition is ending … at least for this year.
It's killing Fitzgerald to sit at home in Richmond and miss Tech's appearance Dec. 28 in Orlando, Fla., for the Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers (9-3), but he just can't justify digging deep into his pocket to make the trip. His attitude isn't uncommon among Tech fans this year, as evidenced by slow bowl ticket sales through Tech's athletic department.
"With the bowl not being as good, the more responsible thing is to not go," said Fitzgerald, a 26-year-old structural engineer who graduated in 2008 from Tech, and who attended Tech's last six bowls with a group of friends. "In previous years, it was a little bit bigger game and I could say, 'Hey, I'll take off work and let's do it.' It just doesn't seem like a good idea now.
"If it was a bigger game, or something a little more exciting, I'd be like, 'I'm going.' … I hate that I'm not going."
His bowl-less holiday plans mirror those of a lot of disenchanted Tech fans. As of Friday morning, Tech (6-6) had sold just under 3,000 of its allotment of 13,500 tickets to the bowl through the athletic department.
Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver doesn't expect sales to improve much going forward. At $72 each through the athletic department, tickets have been a difficult sell for Tech, considering tickets can be found on some resale websites such as Stub Hub for as little as $4 each.
"I think we thought 3,000 to 4,000, and would've hoped 6,000," said Weaver regarding expectations for bowl ticket sales through Tech's athletic department. "The last couple years it's been a very different environment for ticket sales, and the reason is because there are so many tickets available on the Internet from different organizations like Stub Hub, etc. People can get sometimes better tickets, and cheaper tickets, by going on the Internet."
The cost of a ticket through the athletic department is only a small part of a very expensive venture for Tech fans who may be traveling to see the game. For an adult fan looking to catch a roundtrip flight from the Peninsula, rent a car in Orlando, stay in a mid-range hotel and spend a few days hitting the hotspots while doing a little imbibing for 3 1/2 days, it could cost nearly $2,000 – and that's a fairly conservative estimate.
An informal Twitter-generated gauge by the Daily Press late this week of Tech fans' attitudes toward traveling to this bowl revealed many fans won't be making the trip due to the cost of travel and lodging, lack of interest from friends or unavoidable schedule conflicts. A few fans mentioned they'll bypass the game to save for a trip to Atlanta for next season's opener against Alabama.
Tech has a good reputation for bringing fans to bowls, but the athletic department is getting used to the idea of not selling its allotments of tickets. For last season's Sugar Bowl, Tech was allotted 17,500 tickets, and sold just 9,877.
In 2011, Tech sold 7,000 of its allotted 17,500 tickets to the Orange Bowl.
At least Tech hasn't had to eat much of the cost for unsold tickets. The Atlantic Coast Conference requires schools to take on the responsibility of selling, or at least handling the costs, of 6,000 allotted tickets. The conference reimburses schools 50 percent for 6,001-7,000 tickets, 75 percent for 7,001-8,000 tickets and 100 percent for more than 8,000 tickets.
"It's not just us here at Virginia Tech having trouble selling tickets," said Weaver, who added Tech also puts plans in its annual athletic budget to compensate for unsold bowl tickets. "It's happening at a lot of places. Somebody called to my attention (this week) that Nebraska had only sold 2,000 to 3,000 tickets (to the Capital One Bowl against Georgia), Michigan State was around 2,500 tickets (sold for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Texas Christian). It's just a whole different environment out there right now."
Fitzgerald, whose last six trips to Tech bowls have all been centered around New Years Eve plans in Atlanta, Miami or New Orleans, said he started to get a sense early this season he would have to find something else to do to around the end of the month. After Tech's 48-34 loss Oct. 6 at North Carolina, the mother of one of his friends made an observation that no Tech fan wanted to confront.
"She was like, 'So, what do we do on New Years (Eve)? What do normal people do on New Years?'" Fitzgerald said. "Every season has been focused around the bowl. What do we do?"Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times