It's bowl selection time! Of course, that also means we get to talk about the teams whose fans "travel well" and those that don't. This year, popular sentiment is that Bama fans travel better than Ole Miss fans and that may result in the Crimson Tide landing in a bowl while the Rebels sit at home for the holidays – even though Ole Miss beat Alabama on the field.
There are several factors that decide how many fans will follow their team to a bowl:
Number Of Fans – obviously, teams with a larger fan base usually bring the most fans. If you say, in rough numbers, that 50% of a teams' season ticket holders generally attend a bowl, then a LSU might have 35-40,000 fans travel to a bowl game where Ole Miss might only bring 20-25,000.
Bowl Location – if a bowl is more than a day's drive away, economics will reduce fan attendance in many cases to just those fans that can afford to fly or take extended time off … conversely, if a bowl is within 8 hours or less of the majority of a teams' fan base, a significant number of its season ticket holders should be expected to attend.
Bowl Date/Attractiveness - bowls that occur between Christmas and New Year's tend to draw more fans because many are already on vacation that week anyway … and if there are a lot of things to do for the fans outside of just attending the game itself (i.e Orlando), that contributes to a higher number of fans following the team.
Bowl Significance – obviously, if your team is in a BCS Bowl (especially the Championship Game), that should maximize fan attendance … fans that typically wouldn't fly or take time off to attend a bowl game would do so in this situation and total attendance should approach 100% of season ticket holder numbers … conversely, if a team underachieves and goes to a lesser bowl than expected by the fans, attendance could easily fall to less than 50% of its season ticket holders.
A good example of above is the 1999 Fiesta Bowl pitting defending national champion Tennessee against a peaking Nebraska team. The Vols, having lost the chance to repeat as champions thanks to Stoerner, Lucas & Co., took a measly 15,000 fans to Phoenix while the Cornhuskers brought nearly three times that many. The UT team seemed to be about as interested in the game as their fans and Big Red rolled to a convincing win.
Bottom-line, if it is a premier bowl played on or around New Year's Day, expect the fans to follow … otherwise, the bowl organizers better choose schools (or, at least, one school) that are nearby if they want to come close to filling the stadium.
… in other news:
Since going to two divisions in 1992, bowl eligible SEC teams have only been shut out of getting a bowl bid three times – Georgia in '94, South Carolina in '96 and Mississippi State in '97 … MSU is the only SEC team since 1992 to have 7 wins and not make it to a bowl game.
Number of SEC teams in bowls since 1992:
'92 – 6
'93 – 4
'94 – 5
'95 – 6 (Arkansas – Carquest)
'96 – 5
'97 – 6
'98 – 8 (Arkansas – Citrus)
'99 – 8 (Arkansas – Cotton)
'00 – 9 (Arkansas – Las Vegas)
I would like to see the SEC get one more tie-in bowl and that would be the New Orleans Bowl that is currently played (this year) on December 18th and pits the Sunbelt Champion against the #3 team from the Mountain West ... give them the Independence bowl.
My recommendation would be to move the New Orleans Bowl to the afternoon of New Year's Eve and pit the best SEC West team not in a BCS bowl or the Cotton Bowl against the best Big 12 South team not in a BCS bowl or the Cotton Bowl. If this were a reality, Arkansas would be playing Texas A&M on New Year's Eve in New Orleans … how fun would that be!
With the Sugar Bowl played the night of January 2nd, there should still be time to ready the SuperDome after the New Orleans Bowl is over … plus, some fans of the teams playing in the other bowl may come early or stay late and join the festivities of the bowl they're not playing in ... could make for an exciting 3 or 4 days of college football with the fans of 4 major college teams in town!
That's all I have for now … Go Hogs, beat the hell out of the Sooners!