Sugar Bowl pressed team to give up tickets
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By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
The Allstate Sugar Bowl pressured the University of Hawai'i to give up 4,000 tickets that could have been sold to fans who are now scrambling to find seats in the UH cheering section.
UH officials underestimated demand for tickets to the Jan. 1 game and gave 4,000 seats from the school's allotment of 17,500 to Hawai'i's opponent, the University of Georgia.
UH athletic director Herman Frazier said yesterday he wanted to wait until this Friday or even Saturday to see how sales went before giving back 4,000 tickets.
But bowl officials on Saturday wanted an answer "immediately," Frazier said.
"They pressed us," he said in an interview yesterday from New York. "They wanted a decision."
Frazier's explanation did not ease the anger of UH season-ticket holders such as Jenny Ryan of Wahiawa.
Like some of this year's other 22,800 season-ticket holders, Ryan believes UH officials should have surveyed fans weeks ago by mail, e-mail or telephone to gauge their interest in traveling to the Mainland for a potential Bowl Championship Series game before turning down tickets.
"It's just crazy," Ryan said. "They just did this all wrong."
Hawai'i fans have been trying since UH's victory over the University of Washington on Saturday night to get hotel and airline reservations for the game in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans — and Sugar Bowl tickets.
Instead of its allotment of 17,500 tickets, UH ended up with only 13,500, which were all gone by 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Some 5,000 tickets were already committed to the Warriors' football team, UH officials and others. Non-season-ticket holders never got a chance to buy any of the remaining 8,500 tickets.
WON'T IDENTIFY CONTACT
Frazier declined to identify who contacted him on Saturday from the Sugar Bowl, but said, "They wanted more tickets. We said, 'No,' because we didn't want to give up that many so early."
But based on his assumptions that only 7,500 UH fans would travel to New Orleans, Frazier agreed to the Sugar Bowl's request.
"When you go into a situation like this, 13,000 is a lot of tickets — a lot for an away football game," he said.
He also was concerned that UH would be financially obligated to pay for any unsold tickets, which could have amounted to $500,000 from UH's Sugar Bowl revenue.
"That's a big nut," he said.
Frazier is now convinced that Sugar Bowl officials will release more tickets for UH fans who are on a waiting list.
"Before everybody panics, just let this play itself out," Frazier said.
Duane Lewis, director of communications for the Sugar Bowl, said yesterday the organizers want to help Hawai'i fans, but any additional tickets may not be in the UH cheering section.
"We obviously know there's a passionate fan base," Lewis said. "We're going to do anything we can to help."
Neither Frazier nor Lewis would identify the Sugar Bowl official who contacted Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Karl Benson and Frazier on Saturday about giving 4,000 of UH's tickets to Georgia.
"I won't get into that," Lewis said. "A decision needed to be made sooner rather than later. It was a business decision to move tickets that are in high demand."
Just like this year, Lewis said, he believes that each of the Sugar Bowl's previous 73 games have been sold out.
But he insisted that "it behooves us to sell them (tickets) sooner rather than later rather than face uncertainty."
State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said no one from UH contacted her office about how many potential fans might follow the Warriors to New Orleans.
It wouldn't matter anyway, Wienert said, because there is no precedent or out-bound travel data of Hawai'i residents to make accurate estimates.
Season-ticket holder Karen Silverstein of Hawai'i Kai, who is also searching for Sugar Bowl tickets, doesn't blame Frazier or anyone else.
"I can't second-guess Herman Frazier," Silverstein said. "I understand the position he was in to make a decision so quickly and take his best guess. Who would have known there would be so much support? It is surprising how many people are so enamored with this team that they're spending the money that they're spending to get to the Sugar Bowl."
Like others, Silverstein focused on making airline and hotel reservations in New Orleans and didn't worry about getting Sugar Bowl tickets.
"That's the part I didn't think would be an issue at all, getting the actual football tickets," Silverstein said. "Little did I know that they wouldn't have them at all."
FLIGHT SEATS AVAILABLE
At least one travel agent still had packages available yesterday, although not including game tickets. Travel Ways finalized a contract on Tuesday to charter a Boeing 737 with a seating capacity of 124. The company said it had 40 seats available as of late yesterday. The cost is $2,660 for the package, which includes seven nights in a hotel.
The lack of tickets left attorney Derek Kobayashi, a season-ticket holder, feeling that the faith his family has placed in the Warriors for decades wasn't reciprocated when the team had its best season ever.
"There wasn't a belief in us as fans," Kobayashi said. "If they're going to return thousands of tickets that could have gone to Hawai'i, you wonder how much faith they had in us.
"We've believed in the team and held onto our season tickets and even invested more as our families grew. We made an investment in the dream."
THREE UH ENTITIES DETERMINE WHO SCORES TICKETS
Gov. Linda Lingle has her Allstate Sugar Bowl ticket. So do University of Hawai'i President David McClain and UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw — all from UH's allotment of 13,500 tickets.
UH officials and the governor's spokesman confirmed the tickets yesterday. Who receives some of UH's 3,000 Sugar Bowl tickets earmarked specifically for university use is supposed to be decided by three UH entities: the athletic department; Koa Anuenue, the UH athletic booster club; and the UH Foundation, the university's fundraising arm.
Athletic officials referred inquiries about the ticket selection process to Vince Baldemor, president of Koa Anuenue, who said he was responsible for getting seats only for Koa Anuenue members.
"It's all about who's going and who needs to be taken care of," Baldemor said. "There's a lot of communication that goes into figuring out what we can do for everybody. It's not as easy as A to B to C to D. Since we've never done something on this scale before, there's a lot more communication that needs to be done."
Baldemor said UH Foundation President Donna Vuchinich is responsible for the bulk of requests from non-season-ticket holders.
She did not return telephone calls seeking comment yesterday.
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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