New Orleans expects rush of fans for Sugar Bowl

The Sugar Bowl football classic is capping off the tourism year

for New Orleans and getting 2014 off to a good start, thanks in

part to a matchup between teams with fans known to travel.

Tens of thousands of football fans – and their dollars – will

make their way to the Big Easy for the college football game

between third-ranked Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma. Fans are expected

to begin arriving this weekend for days of concerts and fanfare

leading up to the Sugar Bowl game Jan. 2 at the Superdome.

”Sugar Bowl is always a big deal for us, but it’s really a big

deal because of the two teams we have this year,” said Kelly

Schulz, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors

Bureau. ”They both have very large fan bases.”

Jeff Hundley, the Sugar Bowl’s chief operating officer, called

the matchup a home run.

”They both have reputations for (fans) traveling for their

team,” he said.

The first Sugar Bowl was played in 1935, and both teams have

long histories with it – Alabama has been in the game more than any

other team, and Oklahoma more than any non-Southeastern Conference

team. And both play in a similar color scheme, so Bourbon Street

should be a sea of red.

Alabama first played in the Sugar Bowl in 1945, when the Crimson

Tide lost to Duke. The Oklahoma Sooners’ first appearance came in

1949, when the team beat North Carolina.

”These teams both have a history of having fun here, and their

proximity to New Orleans is also going to play a big part in

getting them here,” Hundley said.

Sugar Bowl fanfare will overlap the city’s New Year’s Eve

festivities. On the agenda are days of concerts along bank of the

Mississippi River, games and fireworks displays.

The celebration, which officially begins Dec. 31, is expected to

generate some $150 million for the city, Schulz said.

Schulz said hotels were at more than 90 percent capacity for the

two days leading up to the big game, and Hundley said ticket sales

were on target for a sellout.

There were 75,000 tickets available for the game, and Schulz

said some 100,000 fans were expected to make their way to New

Orleans.

”Some just come to tailgate,” she said.

Game-day events include a ”Fan Jam” outside the Superdome

beginning at 4 p.m. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.

The Sugar Bowl is part of a thriving sports tourism industry in

New Orleans. For 25 years, the Greater New Orleans Sports

Foundation has been in the business of luring multimillion-dollar

events to south Louisiana, among them Super Bowls, Final Fours,

fishing tournaments and even Olympic trials.

Since the foundation’s inception in 1988, it has led successful

bids for three Super Bowls, three men’s college basketball Final

Fours, three women’s Final Fours, three Southeastern Conference

men’s basketball tournaments, four Bassmaster Classic fishing

tournaments and other events.

The events collectively produce an economic benefit of roughly

$2 billion for the city and state.

The city is working to bring the 2018 Super Bowl to New Orleans

in conjunction with the city’s 300th anniversary. There also are

efforts underway to bring back men’s and women’s basketball Final

Fours sometime between 2017 and 2020.