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Holiday Bowl Toss-Up: Will Fans Still Travel?

Holiday Bowl Toss-Up: Will Fans Still Travel?


Staff Writer

When the University of Washington Huskies meet the University of Texas Longhorns at the Culligan Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28, the pregame coin flip won’t be the only toss-up.

The game’s tourism impact on San Diego remains up in the air, as well.

A new factor this year is the slowdown in air travel and tourism, stemming from the slumping economy and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Last year’s Holiday Bowl generated $22.1 million for the local economy, with direct spending of $11.6 million.

The figures were slightly lower than the past two years. There was an overall economic impact of $23.2 million in 1999 and $26.5 million in 1998.

Officials from the bowl game and the local tourism bureau didn’t yet know how the concerns about travel would affect the number of fans who would normally come to town to support their team.

For both schools, this is a return trip. Texas played here last year, and the University of Washington has been here twice, in 1999 and 1996.

“We know that both teams have done quite well in previous trips to San Diego,” said Bruce Binkowski, the Holiday Bowl’s executive director. “Of course, the unknown is how will people be traveling this year, based on everything that’s happened over the last several months and that’s something we just don’t know.”

At this point, it’s difficult to determine the direction ticket sales and hotel bookings are taking, said Steve Schell, associate director of sales and account director of sports for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Schell expects there will be some impact, as the bureau’s seen with leisure, corporate and all types of travel markets.

“I hope and I think that everyone sees that Sept. 11 is behind us and our government has taken appropriate steps to make sure that everyone is safe and secure,” he said.

Schell thinks more people are feeling comfortable with travel plans, which could increase the numbers of fans coming to town.

“It’s too early to say,” Schell said. “I think in about two weeks, as we get closer to the game, we’ll see how the ticket sales are, we’ll see how the pick-up is at the hotels, and we’ll see what the alumni are traveling with, and how many people.”

According to Binkowski, the last time the schools came to town, they sold 8,000 to 9,000 of the 11,500 tickets each team is allotted.

“They both did very, very well in their ticket sales,” he said. Washington sold 8,300 tickets in ’99, and 9,000 in ’96.

The University of Texas had only been officially announced as an opponent on Dec. 3, and Longhorn representatives were not available by press time.

As of the same day, the University of Washington had sold 3,000 tickets, said Jim Daves, the team’s sports information director. The Huskies had their bowl berth the week before.

The Sept. 11 tragedy and its effect on travel will likely hurt all bowl games, including the Holiday Bowl, Daves said.

“I don’t know if we will have as many fans attend as we did the past two times we’ve come,” he said.

Although the team has had 3,000 to 4,000 fans travel to road games in the team’s regular season, the possibility still exists that numbers could be down for a postseason bowl game, Daves said.

Still, the school anticipates “a pretty good amount of traffic coming in on ticket requests,” he said.

The week before, a widespread mailing was sent to alumni in Southern California, which is the standard marketing campaign, Daves said.

According to Binkowski, the Holiday Bowl’s staff not planning to change its sales approach.

“We are aggressively marketing in the two cities, and we’ve always done that,” he said.

Another aspect that isn’t changing very much is how the bowl and parade will be played out on radio and TV. ESPN will again televise the game, and Westwood One Radio and either KOGO-AM or XTRA-AM will broadcast the game locally.

The Holiday Bowl Parade, which takes place on the 28th at 10 a.m., will be telecast live on Cox Communications Channel 4.

The parade will also air on Discovery Channel, on the morning of Dec. 31, and the Travel Channel, the schedule for which has not yet been decided, said Mark Neville, the Holiday Bowl’s assistant executive director.

Binkowski would not divulge details on the broadcast rights fees.

This year, both teams are guaranteed a $2 million payout to play in the Holiday Bowl. Last year, the guarantee was for $1.9 million, and each team was paid $2,005,000.

According to ConVis’ Schell, the fact that both teams played in San Diego in recent years could help or could hurt tourism prospects.

On the plus side, San Diego could be familiar and comfortable to the Texas fans who visited last year, he said. Then again, fans might decide to not travel this year, and wait and see if the following year’s bowl game is in a new destination, Schell said.

Washington is considered among the local visitor industry’s feeder markets, and the game could be a good draw for the area’s visitors during their rainy season, he said.

Schell expects similar visitor counts and remains optimistic. “If everything goes right, maybe we’ll see a little bit of an increase from what these teams traveled in the past,” he said. “That’s what we’re all hoping for. By no means, are we saying, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a bad draw.’ We’re putting a positive spin on this as much as we can.”

As the Holiday Bowl continues to draw good teams, the yearly results indicate strong long-term performance, Schell said.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to have a scenario where we’re going to have half the numbers from last year,” he said. “I think it’ll keep consistent.”


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