by Max Marbut
“Our number-one priority this year is to sell out the ACC Championship Game,” said Gator Bowl Association President Rick Catlett at Tuesday’s Jacksonville Economic Development Commission Sports & Entertainment Board meeting.
2007 will mark the third year Jacksonville has hosted the Atlantic Coast Conference’s football championship game, which is organized and managed by the association.
He said last year’s ticket sales weren’t helped by Wake Forest being one of the smallest schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference in terms of enrollment and that has an effect on their fan base.
“Wake Forest has only 45,000 living alumni nationwide,” said Catlett.
Catlett added the conference has reduced the payout guaranteed to the teams and will kick in an additional $1 million contribution for this year’s game.
Looking ahead, Catlett said 300,000 fans will attend a college football game in Jacksonville in the upcoming season and 175,000 of them will be from out of town. With an average two-night hotel stay and other spending, the total economic impact is more than $60 million.
He also said he believes changes being considered for the Bowl Championship Series format will put Jacksonville in position to host a future National Championship football game, especially since the city has already proven it can host the NFL’s biggest event of the season.
“I’ve been to 23 Super Bowls and no city has ever done a better job than we did. We’re chasing the National Championship Game,” said Catlett.
A full ballpark is anticipated for the April 3 University of Florida vs. Florida State University baseball game after 1,200 tickets were sold the first day they were available.
Sports & Entertainment Coordinator Mike Bouda said the game will be one of the top revenue-generators this year and a sell-out would create the potential for a long-term agreement for the teams to face each other at the Baseball Grounds every year.
Florida and FSU play three times each season and have been scheduling two games at one school and one at the other. Bouda said he thinks the UF and FSU athletics departments would consider a home-away-Jacksonville schedule if the inaugural game here puts a fan in every seat.
ACC baseball officials will be in town next month to begin preparing for the conference championship tournament May 23 - 27. This year, a new bracket format will be in place that will allow teams to stay longer and offer a chance to move more games into prime time for television.
“Our goal is to sell 80,000 tickets this year,” said Bouda.
The board approved a $10,000 financial contribution to the April 2- 8 Bausch & Lomb Championship women’s tennis event at Amelia Island Plantation following a request from tournament organizers and the Mayor’s Office.
Sports and Entertainment Director Mike Sullivan said the tournament lost some of its funding from the state this year, prompting the request.
This year the event has partnered with Mayor John Peyton’s Rally Jacksonville! reading program and $1 from each ticket sold for Tuesday’s day session will be donated to the early literacy initiative.
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