MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia trails Syracuse in the battle of enthusiasm for the Camping World Bowl, but Mountaineers fans are showing a greater appetite for visiting Orlando than they did for Dallas a year ago.
According to WVU senior associate athletics director Matt Wells, the school has sold about 3,500 tickets for the game against Syracuse on Dec. 28. That total includes tickets reserved for The Pride of West Virginia marching band and players’ families.
West Virginia was allotted 8,000 tickets to sell for the game, putting the school at just 44 percent sales. Syracuse has sold over 70 percent of its allotment for the game – at least 5,600 tickets — according to Orange athletics director John Wildhack.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Syracuse is making its first bowl appearance in five years, while West Virginia is making its fifth straight bowl appearance.
“The more routine bowl appearances become, the harder it is to see fans travel on a year-in, year-out basis,” Wells said. “A little bit, you’re a victim of your own success.”
Fan interest is exceeding last year’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, which was played at aging Cotton Bowl Stadium the day after Christmas. Wells said WVU sold only 2,000 tickets for that game.
WVU is playing in what is now known as the Camping World Bowl for the second time in three years. In 2016, the Mountaineers had sold 4,000 tickets by Dec. 13 – 50 percent of their allotment – for the upcoming game against Miami.
Wells said the majority of sales tend to come in the first week that the bowl matchup is announced.
The slower sales rate this season is not a surprise considering West Virginia narrowly missed out on a trip to the Big 12 championship game. A season-opening neutral-site game in Charlotte also could be a factor in bowl game sales.
“That serves as a bowl trip for some fans,” Wells said.
In 2016, West Virginia entered the Orlando bowl on the upswing, winning its last two regular-season games to hit 10 wins. The opposite is true this year. The Mountaineers finished the regular season with back-to-back heartbreaking losses that knocked them from a more prominent bowl appearance.
“How you finished the season always factors in,” Wells said.
The absence of quarterback Will Grier is a compounding factor.
Grier, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy race, elected to skip the Camping World Bowl and begin preparation for the NFL draft. Grier and Mountaineers left tackle Yodny Cajuste are two of 12 players around college football who have elected to sit out bowl games this season.
That trend is not going to subside any time soon, but Wells believes programs can market around the issue.
“Obviously you’re selling ‘support the program,’” Wells said. “The flip side [of someone sitting out] is the opportunity it creates for a different player who may be a big part of the program’s future. You have the benefit of the practice time and the extra game to get a head start on next year. It gives a chance to see a glimpse of the future as far as players who will play a crucial role going forward.”