TAMPA — Despite aggressive marketing, today's ACC Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium is feeling the pinch of a sagging economy and a less-than-alluring matchup.
About 55,000 of the 65,000 seats have been sold, organizers said, which isn't bad, but that figure doesn't necessarily mean that many fans will go through the turnstiles.
The problem is that Virginia Tech, a school renowned for strong fan support, sold only about 3,000 of its 10,000 allotted tickets. Boston College sold fewer than 2,000 of its 10,000. Local organizers have taken dramatic steps to assure a championship-caliber atmosphere by giving tickets away to folks who have signed up as volunteers for the Super Bowl.
"Since we were awarded the game a year ago, we have worked day and night to create the atmosphere befitting the ACC championship," Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins said Friday afternoon. "I'm proud of the job we've done."
After the game struggled to draw fans in its second and third years in Jacksonville, the league awarded the game to Tampa for 2009 and 2010 and then to Charlotte, N.C., for 2011-2012. Tampa organizers set ticket prices as low as $25, substantially less than the $65 least-expensive seat in Jacksonville, and incorporated ancillary activities (such as a concert tonight) around the game to enhance the bang for the buck.
But fans of the Hokies and Eagles didn't know they were headed to Tampa until last week, and plane fare on less than a week's notice can be expensive. It didn't help that the Hokies are 8-4 and unranked and BC is 9-3 and ranked No. 18. Consider: Last year, the same two schools combined to sell about 11,500 of their 20,000 allotted tickets.
Tickets can be bought at the stadium box office or by going to theroadtotampabay.com.
Recruiting opportunity: BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski said a trip to the bay area, and Florida in general, can be a boon for recruiting, especially in a game that's televised nationally.
"That helps, and it gets our brand out there," he said. "The best recruiting tool? Go win the next game."
BC has several Floridians on the roster, including starting QB Dominique Davis (Lakeland Kathleen), RB Montel Harris (Jacksonville Trinity Christian), CB DeLeon Gause (Miami Central) and DE Max Holloway (Jefferson).
Jagodzinski said that after a team meeting Friday, a couple of his coaches would be out scouting some of the area playoff games.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, however, hasn't stressed Florida that much in recent years, choosing to focus on his state, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Maryland.
"We used to come down here quite a bit; there's some great players in Florida. There's no question about the caliber of football down here," he said. "But when we got in the ACC, we kind of tightened the areas that we recruit — about six hours within Blacksburg is where we want to go."
BC-VT connections: Hokies DB coach Torrian Gray is from Lakeland and went to Lakeland Kathleen, the same school that produced the Eagles' Davis. In fact, one of Davis' prep coaches, Irving Strickland, is good friends with Gray and might have to wear something to today's game from Tech and something from BC.