New Orleans Bowl Central -- We're talking big numbers, and big dollars

by Dan McDonald

The Cajuns' second straight appearance in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl has generated record ticket sales, and a significant economic impact both for the Crescent City and the UL program. Wednesday, noon

UL athletics director Scott Farmer and Ragin' Cajun assistant head football coach Reed Stringer both made appearances on Sports Radio ESPN 1420's first broadcast from the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Wednesday morning.

And both referenced the same figure, albeit not a precise and fully-updated one ... 21,000.

Sports Radio ESPN 1420's Steve Peloquin, left, interviews UL Athletic
Director Scott Farmer in New Orleans Wednesday.

That's how many tickets for Saturday's 11 a.m. bowl contest with East Carolina were sold by Monday morning through the Cajuns' ticket office in the Cajundome.

"Every time you hear that number, it sort of makes your jaw drop," Stringer said. "To do that, even before you get on site for a bowl ... I've never been around anything like that. That shows the passion that our fans have for this program."

Stringer, in his second year on the Cajun staff, had previous coaching stops at Mississippi State and Clemson. But he said neither one of those schools came anywhere close to selling 21,000 tickets to a bowl game while he was there.

Farmer said he's hoping to get a complete count from ticket manager Matt Casbon on Wednesday, but he said that Monday's count was at "21-something-thousand" and he expected a few more before sales through the UL office ended at 6 pm. Monday.

"I'd like to research how many schools had a sale like that," Farmer said. "Billy (New Orleans Bowl executive director Billy Ferrante) said he didn't think there would be five schools in the country that would sell 20,000 bowl tickets."

Out of 70 teams playing in 35 bowls, that would be rarefied air, and it wouldn't be the first time that UL fans provided such a following.. The Cajun office sold 18,862 tickets through its offices for the 2011 New Orleans Bowl, and many other UL followers purchased tickets through TicketMaster and other outlets in contributing to a bowl-record 42,841 attendance at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome last year -- a 46 percent jump over the previous year and 41 percent more than the previous bowl mark of 30,228 set four years ago.

"That was the biggest percentage of increase among all the bowls," Ferrante said. "And we also had a jump in TV ratings."

"I was surprised with the numbers last year," Farmer said. "The Cajun Nation shocked me last year, and this year East Carolina is going to bring more people than San Diego State did last year. We sold more tickets through our office and we think that we're going to have more fans from the New Orleans area than we did last year."

Both Ferrante and Farmer are projecting Saturday's crowd to be near the 50,000 mark. That figure would have put the New Orleans bowl right on the middle line -- 18th out of 35 games, with 17 higher and 17 lower -- during the 2011 bowl season. Last year's attendance topped 12 other bowl games.

The more-established Allstate Sugar Bowl, which takes place Jan. 2 in the Superdome and matches Florida against Louisville, drew 64,512 for last year's Michigan-Virginia Tech matchup. This year's Sugar matchup has not drawn great ticket interest, so if Saturday's game can approach that 50K mark, the two games may not be that far apart as far as fan interest -- and in economic impact to the Crescent City.

"That's why almost overnight the New Orleans bowl is significant down here," Farmer said. "We're bringing people to the city that normally wouldn't be here, and we're bringing them in at a time that's normally slower than normal. No question that this bowl is making a significant impact here."

It's also making a significant impact on the Cajun coffers. At the set ticket prices of $40 and $60 available through the UL ticket office, the sale of 21,000 tickets generated a gross income of $952,848.40 -- nearing a million-dollar sale. UL keeps the first $500,000 of that total, and the school and the New Orleans Bowl evenly split all other income on sales through the UL ticket office.

Last year, the Cajuns kept all of their bowl share of sold tickets. A new Sun Belt Conference regulation this year requires a 50-50 split with the league on bowl ticket revenues which cuts into the Cajuns' share, but UL will also share from ticket sales at the league's other three bowl teams -- Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Dec. 26, UL Monroe in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl Dec. 28 in Shreveport, and Arkansas State in the Bowl in Mobile Jan. 6.

The total take may not be as much for the school with the new conference revenue split, but word-of-mouth may be even more valuable for the Cajun program in the future. Farmer said he's had conversations with other bowl games since last year's big sale, and anticipates having similar conversations following this year's game.

"We got a lot of notice and a lot of phone calls," he said. "We went and visited a couple of bowls after they saw our sale last year, and they were very receptive. But right now, with where our program is, everything about this game is perfect. It's a good destination, it's a perfect time of year, and it's not a coincidence that we were the first at-large team in the country to get a bowl bid. It was a no-brainer for us to accept as early as we did."