January 1, 1999
In early November, several Tulane departments began meeting to plot strategy for an event that many Tulanians have never had to plan before: the first postseason bowl appearance for the Tulane football program in 11 years. When the Green Wave took the field on New Year's Eve for the 40th annual AXA/Equitable Liberty Bowl, all the plans fell into place to make a successful event for Tulane supporters.
For Sandy Barbour, athletics director, a bowl appearance "is the ultimate in visibility" and the pinnacle for Tulane football. In a broader sense, she said, "It's a celebration for the entire institution." Making that celebration a success, however, requires a ton of work from several different departments across campus.
"We started meeting three weeks before the bid was final, so that we wouldn't have to start from scratch when it became a certainty," said Claude Mason, director of alumni affairs. When Tulane defeated the University of Houston on Nov. 21, the Liberty Bowl bid was formally offered and accepted. The Green Wave would celebrate New Year's in Memphis against Brigham Young University.
The Wave's last bowl appearance was the Independence Bowl in 1987. So the alumni affairs staff began meeting along with the athletics department to plan a celebratory event for the thousands of Tulane supporters who would flock to Memphis. What came out of their planning was a joint alumni-athletics "Liberty Bowl Blowout" in the Memphis Convention Center immediately after the Liberty Bowl Parade on Dec. 30.
"It was fairly obvious that it would be difficult to predict the size of the crowd ahead of time," Mason said. So, in mid-December, the planners were estimating the party would draw somewhere between 3,000 and 8,000 alumni, parents and friends of Tulane.
Mason's staff also worked with the athletics staff to help promote the game and encourage attendance from Tulane's 80,000-plus alumni population, especially the group of more than 20,000 alumni living within driving distance of Memphis. It was up to Vince Granito to deal with the response from that effort.
The assistant athletics director for ticket operations and sales, Granito and his staff spent much of December working overtime selling and mailing tickets and Tulane merchandise to eager fans.
"It means working very hard in a very short period of time," he said. The athletics ticket office and sports merchandise shop in the Wilson Center became a hub of activity. Granito and his staff took orders for tickets and merchandise such as T-shirts during the day, then filled the orders at night.
As of mid-December, more than 7,000 game tickets had been sold out of Tulane's allotment of 15,000 tickets. "It means long hours, extended hours to meet the needs of the public and coordinate with travel agents, hotels and bowl staff," he said. "The general public thinks this just happens but it takes a lot of people working behind the scenes."
One of the more gratifying parts for Granito is the surge in interest in merchandise carrying the new Tulane athletics logo, which debuted earlier this year, just in time for a national bowl appearance. "Merchandise has been flying out of here. We can't keep it in stock," Granito said.
Flying, meanwhile, was the work of another campus group working to make the Liberty Bowl a success. DMI Travel, the university's travel service located in the University Center, worked with Granito and others to put together various Liberty Bowl travel packages.
Jody Casata, athletics travel manager for DMI, said the most popular was a same-day air charter for fans to fly to Memphis the day of the game and return that evening. The charter was sold out. Interest in the Memphis packages was very busy initially and steady through mid-December, she said.
Speaking in mid-December, Barbour was hoping that most of the 15,000 allotment of tickets would sell. She said Tulane would receive a minimum payout of $1.1 million from the Liberty Bowl, but the school is required to purchase the 15,000 tickets as well as pay bowl expenses from that amount. For Barbour and the athletics department, the bowl appearance meant a huge amount of work. "The entire department was involved--game operations, cheerleaders, dance team, football."
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