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Despite score, WVU loses on Orange Bowl trip

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The West Virginia University football program lost $217,700 on its Orange Bowl trip, but athletic department officials say they worked hard to hold down the figure in light of a massive reimbursement expense for unsold tickets.  

"We obviously planned for the worst and really worked our tails off to minimize our expenses on this trip, which was a very expensive trip, and we really did a good job of that," said Mike Parsons, deputy athletic director.

"Some costs didn't come out as high as we had planned, and we were careful to manage our expenses in some other areas."

It's the third time in the past five years the Mountaineers have lost money on a bowl trip. The net loss for the five years is $805,568, but the damage could have been worse.

WVU sold only 7,763 tickets for the game, meaning it had to pay for the remaining 9,737 allocated tickets that cost between $75 and $225.

The tickets either went unsold or were given to coaches, players, the marching band and the travel party.

The school also brokered a deal to give tickets to active and former members of the military and their families.

That cost came to nearly $1.2 million.  

WVU took a $1 million ticket loss for the January 2008 Fiesta Bowl and ended up with a net loss of $1 million for the entire trip.

The Mountaineers managed the situation much better in their first Bowl Championship Series appearance since then.

"You never like to lose money in these situations, but under the current structure, if you look at historical comparisons, you almost go into a bowl thinking, 'OK, how can we make this as little of a loss as possible?' " said Alex Hammond, director of football operations.

"There are certain guarantees built into bowl games that make it very difficult to come out in the black, especially this year given the date of the game and the day of the week and the kind of guarantees we had to deal with, like how long we had to be there. That made it very difficult.

"Even with a fan base that travels as well as we do, we knew we were likely looking at a significant loss."

WVU lost $13,789 on the December 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl and then made $332,543 on the Gator Bowl after the following season. In 2010, WVU made $144,750 on the Champs Sports Bowl.

The Mountaineers were more fortunate with each of those three games. The Car Care Bowl was on a Saturday and two days after Christmas in Charlotte, N.C.

The January 2010 Gator Bowl was in Jacksonville, Fla., which has been a popular spot for WVU through the years. That year, the New Year's Day game was on a Friday. The 2010 Champs Sports bowl was in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 28.

Neither of those games allocated the same number of tickets as the Orange Bowl did. WVU was handed 17,500 for the BCS game, which this year was on a Wednesday three days after New Year's Day in Miami Gardens, Fla.

"It all comes back to if we were able to sell more tickets, we would have been in the black," Parsons said.

"Certainly the tickets are a big part of the equation and this Jan. 4 date did not work to our advantage. It was the middle of the week after the holidays when most people are back at work or back in school. That always creates a challenge."

WVU's entry into the Big 12 Conference July 1 will alter its financial fortunes for future bowls. The Big East Conference holds its members responsible for tickets, but the Big 12 is different.

"The ticket obligation is not on the school. It goes to the conference," Parsons said. "They essentially take the hit on it, but they'll make the money off of ticket sales, too. But they incentivize it. Say the commitment is 10,000. They say, 'If your sales go over 5,000, we'll give you half.'

"They encourage you to sell more tickets, and you can realize more money in the long run. It's just a different way and it takes a lot of pressure off the schools."

The Mountaineers were awarded $2.2 million from the Big East with $2 million coming from earning the BCS bid and the rest to cover mileage for travel. However, WVU will forfeit that money as part of its settlement with the Big East so the school can bypass the league's 27-month exit period and join the Big 12 in two months.

The school's total expenses for the Orange Bowl, counting the loss on ticket sales, totaled $2,439,700.

Transportation, which included charter and commercial flights for the players, coaches, support staff and travel party, buses for the band's trip and then buses on site, cost $412,361.

Food and lodging, which this year was at the famously swank Fontainebleau hotel, totaled $729,118.

WVU was required to spend the week at the Fontainebleau and needed about 185 rooms for the team and all its personnel and about another 120 for the marching band. However, athletic officials controlled food expenses by having a number of meals outside the hotel's pricey restaurants.

"There were instances where instead of maybe $10,000 for a meal, you'd spend $1,500," Hammond said.

Entertainment costs totaled $4,625, and most of that was for tickets to a Miami Heat game. However, the Fontainebleau is a lively destination with numerous entertainment options, so that helped cut down on costs in that category.

Promotional costs, for things like producing the bowl media guide, totaled $4,950. Awards for the players, in addition to the gift package provided to the bowl, totaled $25,883.

"A large percentage of that is the gear we provided the players to wear so they could travel around in uniformity with the new Orange Bowl gear," Hammond said.

Equipment costs totaled $92,232 and covered transportation of office and practice supplies and equipment, new football equipment so players could replace old or worn pieces and renting audio and visual necessities from the hotel for team meetings.

"There are always lessons to be learned about more efficient ways to do things, but I think the model we've brought forth is pretty good," Hammond said. "Obviously, you lose $200,000, that's not chump change, but certainly it could have been worse.

"I think we've got a good system where we kind of control our expenditures. The model is probably pretty close to where we want it to be, but there are certain modifications within that we can look to make."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at



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