It's not much consolation for a team that hasn't played in the Rose Bowl in a half-century, especially when its biggest rival is about to make the trip to Pasadena for a third consecutive year. But Gophers fans can at least enjoy the fact that part of Wisconsin's $22 million haul from playing on New Year's Day will be spent, at least indirectly, on several thousand tickets to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
As of Wednesday, Minnesota had sold about 2,000 tickets to the Dec. 28 game in Houston, almost double the number it moved for its last bowl trip, and had sold out one charter flight for boosters with plans to hire another.
"We're reasonably happy with where we're at," athletic department spokesman Garry Bowman said. "We've contacted all our support groups -- the Goal Line Club, our season-ticket holders, student groups on campus -- and we believe we'll move more in the next few weeks."
The university sold just over 1,000 tickets to the 2009 Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., Bowman said, and just under 2,000 for the 2008 Insight Bowl, so "this is about what we expected, maybe a little stronger. And we're not done."
Trouble is, the Gophers had to commit to buying 12,000 tickets, priced between $25 and $75, to secure an invitation for the bowl game against Texas Tech, which has a $1.7 million payout. Along with nearly $1.5 million in travel expenses and other costs, the school would be headed toward a large financial loss by playing in the game -- if not for the Big Ten.
The conference pools all bowl revenues, covers the cost of unsold tickets, pays each team an expense "allowance" that varies by bowl and destination, then divvies up the remainder among member schools. That system effectively means that the massive Rose Bowl paydays -- and BCS at-large paychecks in many years, though not this year -- subsidize trips to lower-paying bowls by Big Ten members. The Badgers' success, in other words, helps prevent the Gophers from losing money.
With only one Big Ten school in a BCS bowl this year and only seven qualified schools overall, the league's postseason revenues will come up well short of the nearly $47 million that 10 members earned from bowl appearances last year. On the other hand, not placing teams in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl or other small-payout games figures to actually save the conference some cash.
The more tickets sold, the better, of course. But the Gophers' slow sales are mirrored around the league, after a mostly disappointing Big Ten season. Michigan State, for instance, is at roughly 2,000 tickets sold for its Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl matchup against Texas Christian in Tempe, leaving it with another 9,000 tickets on hand. Purdue was required to buy just 6,000 seats to its Heart of Dallas matchup with Oklahoma State, but has moved only 2,500, according to the Lafayette Journal and Courier.
Nebraska might be the most disappointing Big Ten bowl participant. Cornhuskers fans had expected to be headed to the Rose Bowl, but a 70-31 rout in the Big Ten championship game dropped them into the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. The result, according to the Orlando Sentinel, has been fewer than 4,000 tickets sold out of Nebraska's allotment of 12,500.
Sales at Wisconsin and Michigan are stronger, though. Any dropoff in interest that back-to-back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances might have produced in Madison has been offset by athletic director Barry Alvarez's unusual decision to return to the Wisconsin sideline following the departure of coach Bret Bielema to Arkansas. The Badgers sold more than 15,000 of their 24,000 Rose Bowl tickets for their game with Stanford in the first five days, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Michigan has sold more than 6,000 of its 11,000 tickets to the Outback Bowl matchup with South Carolina, according to MLive.com. Northwestern, the Big Ten's only private school, has not announced its ticket numbers for its Gator Bowl matchup with Mississippi State in Jacksonville, Fla.
The secondary ticket market, an Internet phenomenon that has become increasingly trusted by consumers, undercuts many bowl ticket sales, especially at lesser-known bowls. The Gophers hoped to combat that factor, Bowman said, by offering such a wide range of seats, from more expensive tickets on the 50-yard line to cheaper upper-deck seating.
The Gophers also have had good luck with package deals such as $1,000 per person for airfare, rooms at the team hotel, ground transportation, tickets to the game and a pregame tailgate party.
The game at the Houston Texans' Reliant Stadium is normally one of the best-attended non-BCS bowl games, in part because this is the fifth time in the game's seven seasons that a Texas school was invited. More than 68,000 tickets were sold for each of the past three bowls, which was known as the Texas Bowl before Meineke bought naming rights.