Even with the Gators in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 8, tourism officials were expressing their gratitude Monday for the match-ups in the two bowl games that will be held at Dolphin Stadium in January.
The other three teams are from out of state and their fans are expected to travel. Virginia Tech will face the University of Cincinnati, which has never appeared in a major bowl game, in the FedEx Orange Bowl on Jan. 1. The Gators play Oklahoma in the national championship game on Jan. 8.
Tourism officials are predicting that even in this difficult economy, fans will pump as much as $250 million or more into the local economy in hotel rooms, restaurants and other businesses. College football fans have a passion that’s unrivaled, even in tough times, tourism officials say.
Mary Beth Romig, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, told my colleague, tourism reporter Doreen Hemlock, that hosting the title and Sugar Bowl games in January, brought an estimated $350 million to the region, including $200 million from the BCS game, even though it included a local team, Louisiana State University.
And the Sugar Bowl game brought newcomer Hawaii. Romig said Hawaiians typically don’t travel east of Las Vegas, so it wasn’t clear the team’s fans would make the trip to New Orleans. Tourism officials needn’t have worried. The team’s fans chartered planes.
“The spirit of Hawaiians was terrific,” Romig said. “It was good for New Orleans. Having the national spotlight on us was very important.”
Broward is expected to benefit this year because not only is the media headquarters hotel the Marriott Harbor Beach in Fort Lauderdale, but Virginia Tech and Florida are to stay at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood. Virginia Tech will practice at Nova Southeastern University; Florida at American Heritage in Plantation. Cincinnati and Oklahoma will stay at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach and practice at Barry University.
Meanwhile, last week, tourism officials said they weren’t quite sure what to expect from fans of Big East champion Cincinnati. To hear it from the university, though, the school is expecting a big crowd. The athletics department has been fielding phone calls ever since it was clear the Bearcats were bowl eligible. Those calls picked up after the team became the Big East champion, said Mike Harris, Cincinnati assistant athletic director for sports communications.
The school included $50 bowl credits with the sale of each season ticket that can be applied to the purchase of bowl game tickets. Those credits were also sold individually and by Friday afternoon a total of some 8,600 credits had been purchased, Harris said.
Reggie Philpott, a student employee in Cincinnati’s ticket office, said last week that Bearcats fans were planning vacations around a possible trip to South Florida. “It’s like 18 degrees in Cincinnati,” he said.