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WVU fans prepare for bowl game

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mountaineer Nation is preparing to go bowling.

Sunday's announcement that the West Virginia University Mountaineers will be playing the N.C. State Wolfpack in the Dec. 28 Champs Sports Bowl set off the traditional jockeying among the fan base as to who is going to the game and how.

Fans are now deciding if and how they want to make the trip to McCracken Field at the Florida Citrus Bowl stadium, while those in charge of the bowl are hoping for a good turnout.

"We are looking forward to a good game, and we're excited to have West Virginia down here," said Greg Creese, director of communications for Florida Citrus Sports.

The organization, which also hosts the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, has marketed the bowls together as Orlando Bowls Week.

They're hoping families will choose to stay not just for the game, but also for a week's vacation in the warmer Florida climate.

Creese pointed out that Orlando is not only home to the Walt Disney World resort and Universal Studios, but also is just a 40-minute drive from the beach and Kennedy Space Center. He said there would be plenty to do between the two football games.

"It's a complete week," he said. "There are only a few places in the country that put on two bowl games in one town."

Creese didn't have exact figures, but he said Monday afternoon that first-day sales were on track with previous bowl games the association had put together.

"They're trending about the same as they have been in the past," he said. "We're on pace for what we've done in past years."

He said ticket sales usually ramp up once fans line up their travel and hotel arrangements. Given WVU's excellent travel reputation, he expected the rate of sales to pick up.

"Mountaineer fans, I know, are some of the best college football fans in the country, and they can come down here and not just see one game, but two games," he said, "and have a complete Florida vacation and probably see some weather that they're not used to seeing this time of year in the mid-Atlantic."

The organization's website, www.fcsports.com, offers a direct link to Ticketmaster to purchase tickets for the game, as well as the pep rally and kickoff luncheon prior to the game.

Discounted tickets to Universal Studios for the week of the game are being sold as well.

And, the website lists area hotels and places to eat for those who plan to make the trip.

WVU's acceptance to an Orlando-based bowl game was also a win for Yeager and Tri-State regional airports, both of which offer discounted direct flights to Orlando.

In Charleston, AirTran currently provides nonstop travel to Orlando, while Allegiant Air provides the service out of Huntington.

Space on bowl-week flights was already very limited or sold out on both airlines Monday afternoon.

Yeager Director of Marketing Brian Belcher said room on flights was limited even before the Mountaineers accepted the invitation to the bowl on Sunday.

But Belcher said the airport also offered several other flights to Orlando with stops in connecting cities, though seating on those was becoming limited as well.

"There's seats there, but they've been selling pretty fast," he said Monday morning. "Mountaineer fans love to travel and they travel well."

Belcher said airport officials were working to get additional flights and seats lined up to meet the demand from bowl game travelers.

"We're looking at all avenues to see if any of the airlines can add seats for that time frame around the ball game," Belcher said.

In the past, some organizations have chartered flights to travel to bowl games. Charleston's National Travel was one, though Vice President of Finance Karen Cottrell said they would not be doing that this year.

"In this instance, because there's so many low-cost carriers, we are not doing a charter flight," Cottrell said. "We're just doing individual customized bookings.

"Most of the main carriers will try to be competitive, but I'm sure inventory will begin to be a problem as demand comes."

Even though National Travel isn't offering a charter flight, Cotrill said Monday they already had started receiving calls from fans and helped book travel arrangements for them.

"We've already begun receiving calls and interest in the bowl," she said. "We can help with getting air tickets, cars, hotels if they need it."

She said it was still too early to tell how interest in this pre-New Years Day bowl game compares to past non-BCS or New Years Day bowl visits.

The WVU Alumni Association will charter a flight out of the North Central Regional Airport as part of its bowl package.

The flight will leave Clarksburg on Dec. 26 and return Dec. 29. Lodging will be at Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, where the team will be staying; package prices begin at $1,439.

Locally, retailers are preparing for the wave of merchandising that comes with bowl games.

"They've been calling already - they can't wait," Charleston Department Store Manager Dale Haynes said. "The phones rang off the hook this morning."

"We have had numerous calls this morning," SportMart Manager Buddy Clendenin said. "We always have people call in and ask. They're to the point now that they know we're going to get it, they just want to know when."

Both Haynes and Clendenin said they would soon have special bowl-edition T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats. The apparel will start hitting shelves at Charleston Department Store Wednesday; Clendenin said he would have stock on either Wednesday or Thursday.

Both expect a rush on sales prior to the game.

"It'll get crazy," Haynes said. "Every year they get after the bowl stuff harder than they get the regular West Virginia stuff."

"I think it will be pretty good," Clendenin said.

He also said the Mountaineers' first visit to the Champs Sports Bowl could help boost sales.

"I think we kind of got burnt out with Gator Bowl and Carquest Bowl, and this will be a new location," he said.

While both Clendenin and Haynes have made the traditional bowl trip in the past, they said they're opting to stay home this year.

Those electing to watch from their living rooms can catch the game on ESPN at 6:30 p.m.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.

 


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