War Eagle Extra

Sugar Bowl organizers surprised by slow-paced ticket sales for ‘marquee matchup’

Auburn plays in Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans Monday, Jan. 2, 2017.
Auburn plays in Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans Monday, Jan. 2, 2017. AP Photo

The Sugar Bowl’s two-year sellout streak is at risk.

Ticket sales for the New Year’s Six bowl in New Orleans are moving at a sluggish pace with less than two weeks until Oklahoma and Auburn face off in the Superdome.

It’s an unexpected development for the game’s organizers.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised,” Sugar Bowl chief operating officer Jeff Hundley said Tuesday.

Hundley, who has been part of the Sugar Bowl staff for 23 years, expected this year’s game to be as popular a draw as last year’s matchup between Oklahoma and Ole Miss and the 2014 College Football Playoff semifinal featuring Ohio State and Alabama.

“We view this as a marquee matchup,” Hundley said. “These are brand-name teams with brand-name coaches. They are programs with rich histories.”

Hundley didn’t share specific numbers, but categorized ticket sales as “slow.”

Neither program has sold out its initial allotment of 15,000 tickets as of Tuesday afternoon.

According to team spokespeople, Auburn has 2,700 tickets remaining while Oklahoma has 5,700 tickets left of their original share.

“Auburn might have some people question them because of their record, but this is a team with a solid defense that is getting healthy,” Hundley said. “We expect this to be a good football team.”

Hundley doesn’t see the disappointing ticket sales as a problem unique to the Sugar Bowl. The creation of a four-team playoff has created a new set of challenges for the New Year’s Six games when they aren’t hosting the semifinals.

“This is a sign of the times,” Hundley said. “All of us in the bowl industry are working hard to be creative to move tickets with all the focus on semifinals and college football playoff.”

The Sugar Bowl raised money as part of a consortium to bring Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve to the city. The event will be part of the Sugar Bowl’s fan fest this year.

“Our goal is to package some entertainment to draw causal fans from across the city,” Hundley said.

Maintaining a loyal, local fan base will be vital in selling out future games.

“In the new system it’s one of the bigger challenges,” Hundley said. “We have to be active in the local community to build a solid foundation of fans interested in coming to the game every year regardless of the matchup.”

While Hundley is keeping an eye on the future, no one is throwing in the towel on this year’s game.

“It’s hard to gauge how things will go,” Hundley said of a sellout. “We are actively marketing tickets and will continue to do so.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra