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USA TODAY

Thousands of college football fans traveled across three time zones to watch Florida State beat Auburn for the national championship Monday in Pasadena, Calif., many of them paying hundreds of dollars a ticket.

It was an expensive vacation, including transportation, lodging and meals.

But it's still cheap compared with what it could cost fans next year with the debut of a four-team College Football Playoff.

Instead of one postseason bowl game to end the season in a faraway city, two teams will play in two postseason games -- a semifinal and championship, each in a different state.

The semifinals will take place Jan.1 in Pasadena and New Orleans, with each participating team required to buy a block of 12,500 tickets to resell to its fans.

Less than two weeks later, Jan. 12, the semifinal winners play for the national championship in Arlington, Texas, where each participating team will be required to buy about 20,000 additional tickets, all at full price.

Is that asking too much?

"We're confident about the demand for the championship-game tickets," said Bill Hancock, executive director of the new playoff. "The game will be extremely popular. We expect all four schools will offer tickets to their fans before the semifinals, and we expect the demand to exceed the supply. Of course, the demand in the host city also will be tremendous."

The cost of travel, along with scheduling issues, long have been cited as drawbacks for staging a multiple-round playoff in major-college football. Those hurdles might even stand in the way of expanding the four-team playoff unless additional games are staged at campus sites to mitigate travel expenses.

Though the playoff games will be of high national interest, ticket demand still could depend in large part on the size of a team's fan base and travel distance to the games.

Several schools in recent years sold only a portion of the 17,500 tickets they were required to purchase for their appearances in various Bowl Championship Series games, forcing schools -- and their conferences -- to absorb millions of dollars in losses for unsold tickets. Central Florida and Baylor struggled to sell their allotments to the recent Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. Last season, Florida State sold only a small percentage of its 17,500-ticket allotment for the Orange Bowl. As a result, FSU and the Atlantic Coast Conference absorbed $2.1 million in unsold tickets.

The new playoff games are expected to be in much higher demand than those BCS games, but they still will ask fans to buy expensive tickets and travel long distances twice in two weeks.

"This ticket purchasing requirement is asking schools to make a leap of faith -- hoping that these tickets can be sold to those who wish to make the trip," said Mark Conrad, director of the sports business program at Fordham University. "Although it is less than the past requirement, the number of potential games and distance of the locations do pose risks for the schools, especially with the ability of fans to watch these games in the comfort of 50-inch television receivers."

Bowl ticket requirements are negotiated by the bowls and the leagues long before matchups are set. Bowls like them in part because they guarantee a certain amount of sales at full price. In exchange for agreeing to buy a certain amount of tickets upfront, the participating schools and leagues usually get a guaranteed payout from the bowl, plus a block of face-value premium seats that might fetch more -- or less -- on the open market.

Hancock said he expected the size of the championship game's ticket allotment for participating teams to be finalized this spring.

"The number will be around 20,000 per school," he said. "It will be decided by the playoff management committee and staff."

Some bigger schools might see demand exceed their supply. In those cases, schools can use the tickets as a fundraising tool. "So it could be a way to market the school and build stronger alumni relations, even though the upfront cost may be high," Conrad said.

In the past, schools with less fervent fan bases sometimes fared differently.

"The problem is when smaller institutions with smaller fan bases are playing outside their region," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.

January 10, 2014
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