Over the past 12 days, Rick Baker and his staff at the AT&T Cotton Bowl have heard the voices of passion that is the Kansas State fan base.
“We’ve gotten literally thousands of emails and phone calls from K-State fans since we announced (K-State would play in the Cotton Bowl),” Baker, the president of the Cotton Bowl, said in a phone interview with The Mercury on Wednesday.
Some fans have voiced their excitement to watch the eighth-ranked Wildcats play No. 6 Arkansas on Jan. 6 in Arlington, Texas. Others have expressed frustration over the two schools being allotted just 12,500 tickets apiece, which have left K-State fans scrambling to find tickets at a reasonable price on the secondary market — which on average are going for well over $200 a ticket.
“I understand the frustration for K-State fans,” said Baker, who will take in his 24th straight Cotton Bowl on Jan. 6. “But it’s important K-State fans understand that they are some of the best in college football. Not every school is as blessed as K-State is to have the great fans that they have. For a lot of schools out there that we deal with, 12,500 are more than enough.
“It’s a compliment to coach (Bill) Snyder, (athletic director) John Currie and the whole K-State community that they have such a great following to a point that 12,500 tickets aren’t enough. But they are truly the exception, not the rule in college football.”
Baker said the allotment of 12,500 has been the number given to the schools during its 17-year relationship with the Big 12.
“I don’t think we’ve changed it one ticket,” he said. “I think it’s always been 12,500. That was just a number that seemed to be the right amount.”
Last year’s attendance for the Cotton Bowl was 83,514. With the two participating teams receiving a combined allotment of 25,000, that would have meant approximately 70 percent of Cowboys Stadium was filled with tickets not allotted to the participating schools.
The tickets to the 2012 Cotton Bowl were sold out in August, with a large percentage of them being bought up during the renewal period from March through May.
“We’ve got thousands of accounts,” Baker said. “We don’t sell hundreds and hundreds of tickets to one account. We’ve got great college football fans down here and after 76 years we’ve built up a great base of fans who really don’t care who plays here, they just want to watch a good college football game every year. So these are fans that are willing to come every year no matter who plays and that’s who buys our tickets.”
Baker said he’s not naïve in knowing that some of those people probably put their tickets on ticket broker web sites such as StubHub to make a profit, but he said that more often than not the people who buy those tickets are purchasing them for the sole purpose of attending the game.
“You try to limit that kind of customer (who sells tickets for profit),” he said. “We try to spread it out and make our ticket base as broad as we possibly can so that as many people as possible have a chance to come see our game.”
The Cotton Bowl’s allotment isn’t abnormal on the bowl scene by any means. For example, Baylor was allotted 12,500 tickets for the Alamo Bowl. Nebraska was given 12,500 for the Capital-One Bowl. The Outback Bowl allotted 11,500 to each of its teams, the Gator Bowl 12,750 and the Champs Sports Bowl 13,500. BCS games such as the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl gave out 17,500 tickets to each school, but Virginia Tech (Sugar Bowl) and West Virginia (Orange Bowl) have struggled immensely to sell out its allotment for those games.
That’s where the risk is involved, because any given year things can change, and if a bowl such as the Cotton Bowl doesn’t get the right matchup, allotted tickets often go unsold. That scenario often leads to bowls searching for what schools can sell more tickets rather than who the better team is.
“If we had a bunch of tickets available on the hopes we’d get a team like K-State with the kind of fans that they have and then we didn’t get them — then we felt like we might be more inclined to take teams that could sell tickets and not teams that were the most deserving,” Baker said. “We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to try and always do the right thing. So we felt it was our job to go out and pre-sell as many tickets as we could, which allows us to invite the most deserving team and not the team that’s gonna sell the most tickets.”
K-State fans are regarded as some of the best fans in the country when it comes to traveling and supporting the Wildcats. Baker has witnessed that first-hand, when K-State brought 40,000-plus to both the 1997 and 2001 Cotton Bowls.
But this game has become a more difficult ticket than the previous two times K-State was in the Cotton Bowl. For one reason, Arkansas, just like K-State has already sold out its allotment, and the Razorback fans are also scouring the secondary market, as it’s only a six-hour drive from Fayetteville to Arlington. Plus, this marks the first battle of top-10 teams in the Cotton Bowl since 1994.
Because of that, demand is outweighing the supply, enabling those who are selling its tickets on the secondary market to steepen its asking price.
“The two fan bases we have coming to this game — that’s really where I think the secondary market is exploding because it’s not just one team that has the fans that want to come, it’s both teams that have the fans that want to come,” Baker said.
Because of that demand and the buzz surrounding this game, it should be an electric atmosphere in Arlington in three weeks.
“We felt like we won the lottery with this matchup,” Baker said. “I don’t think the smiles have fallen off our faces yet since the game was announced. It’s been a great (12 days for us).”