Rose Bowl Sees Dip in Crowds

Times Staff Writer

Here's the contradiction of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl of 2003: Although they were sell-outs, attendance was a disappointment.

Ask Tournament of Roses officials, and they will tell you that all 92,000 tickets for the New Year's Day match-up between Washington State and Oklahoma were spoken for. But empty rows glared out from the southern end zone at the game.

Along the Rose Parade route, tickets had been purchased for all 125,000 bleacher seats. But some tournament and police officials and area merchants said that the crowds along the route appeared off from previous years.

Theories vary on the causes of the drop -- from security concerns to lack of local interest in the game -- as do estimates of how many people showed up for the parade.

But not all of Pasadena's 2,500 hotel rooms were booked for the days before New Year's, as they usually are.

At the Rose Bowl game, the announced attendance of 86,848 was sparser than any Rose Bowl crowd since 1944. The vacancies were so glaring that, during the first quarter, ushers asked fans to move down from seats in the upper part of the stadium so that barren bleachers wouldn't be shown on television.

Tournament of Roses officials said Thursday that most of the empty seats at the bowl game were deep in Washington State's cheering section. Under the terms of the "contractual sell-out" guaranteed by ABC as part of the broadcast agreement for the game, four entities -- the Tournament of Roses, ABC Sports and the two football conferences competing in the game -- buy blocks of tickets to the contest and are allowed to resell them.

This year, Washington State and Oklahoma were required to buy 27,500 tickets each. Oklahoma sold its quota, plus 7,500 more. But Washington State, according to Tournament officials, did not fully distribute its tickets, though it was unclear just how many the university resold.

Officials from Washington State could not be reached for comment Thursday because they were traveling back to Pullman, Wash., from Pasadena.

But Tournament of Roses chief executive William B. Flinn noted that Washington State learned it would play in the Rose Bowl only on Dec. 8, leaving little time to prepare for the game.

With the lateness of announcements by the Bowl Championship Series of who will be playing in what bowl game, Flinn said, "you only have a three-week period during holidays when alumni can book their trips."

As for the Rose Parade, it's almost impossible to come up with accurate estimates of the crowds that pack the route each year. Tournament officials long claimed that 1 million people attended the parade -- a number that researchers at Caltech have said is statistically impossible. Last year, the Tournament estimated parade attendance at 800,000, attributing the lower turnout in part to fears brought on by the 9/11 attacks.

On Thursday, Flinn said he thought that attendance was slightly higher than last year's.

But Janet Pope, a spokeswoman for the Pasadena Police Department, said that anecdotal reports she had received on Dec. 31 seemed to indicate that "there didn't seem to be as many people reserving spots" along the parade route.

"It was a well-behaved crowd during the parade day, but that night it didn't seem as if there were as many people out," she said.

Camerina Carrillo, manager of the restaurant La Fiesta Grande on Colorado Boulevard, said she noticed the same thing. "There were a lot less people sleeping out on the route, even though the weather was nice," she said. "We are right on the boulevard, and there weren't the crowds there had been in previous years."

At the 61-room Westway Inn on East Colorado Boulevard, there were no vacancies on New Year's Eve. But manager Chinsung Chen said that in the weeks before the parade, he had had to drop a required three-night minimum stay so he could sell out.

Leann Lampe, of the Pasadena Visitors and Convention Bureau, said that many local hotels and motels were forced to make similar reductions in their minimum stays.

Typically, rooms in the city sell out for at least three days around New Year's. This time, Lampe said, the city "wound up at 97% occupancy" for the nights of Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

"You weren't seeing people come in and stay for as long as we liked them to," she said.

Lampe remained optimistic about the long-term health of an event that brings millions of dollars to the region each year.

According to a UCLA Anderson School of Management study in 2002 that was commissioned by the Tournament of Roses, about $225 million was spent in the region by those participating in or attending last year's Tournament of Roses events.

"We'll have to see what next year brings," she said. "The good part about this is, there's always next year."

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