December 31, 2004
The Fiesta Bowl may be a little less festive this year for Valley hoteliers.
The annual college gridiron clash, scheduled to kick off Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, pits the University of Utah against the University of Pittsburgh. Local business leaders have said they are worried that the matchup won’t be a huge tourist draw.
Whether that is playing out depends on who you talk to and just how close they are geographically to the main event.
So far, hotels surrounding the stadium are pretty full for today and Saturday, but not overflowing enough to send out-of-town game-goers too far afield. At the Holiday Inn Phoenix-Tempe ASU, general manager Tom Kreitler has just a handful of rooms available for the weekend.
Kreitler originally sold out, then got a few cancellations. “That’s a pretty typical Fiesta Bowl year,” he said.
But Kreitler called around to ask fellow hoteliers about the overall situation. “I was surprised to hear how many hotels weren’t sold out,” he said.
At the Hilton Phoenix East-Mesa, all 260 rooms are booked for today, but only 200 for Saturday night. “That tells me those people aren’t here for the game,” said David Muth, general manager.
Muth, who has a Fiesta Bowl band staying at his hotel through the weekend, figures he filled up the rest of his rooms for New Year’s Eve with local folks who are coming for the hotel’s holiday festivities and don’t want to drive home afterward.
The rooms for today filled up fast when Muth removed a two-night-stay restriction aimed at booking football fans. “I’ve been here 13 years, and I can’t remember a Fiesta Bowl with less excitement,” Muth said.
Last year when Ohio State bested Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort on the Gila River Indian Community was teaming with fans from both teams — especially the Kansas crowd, said hotel spokeswoman Kristen Jarnagin. Fans were chartering flights in and out of Chandler Airport, she said.
“This year we haven’t seen that,” Jarnagin said. “We’ve had some (football fans) trickling in, but nothing like the crowds of last year.”
Chaparral Suites Hotel in Scottsdale has both Pittsburgh and Utah followers booked, said general manager Tom Silverman. Silverman said he’s actually “doing a little better than last year.” “Last year, I was a little off,” he said. “Considering the teams, we’re doing OK this year.”
Silverman said, however, it’s nothing compared with a national championship Fiesta Bowl, such as two years ago when Ohio State and Miami battled for the crown.
Sherry Henry, general manager at the Fiesta Inn in Tempe, which is booked solid for the weekend with fans and the Pitt band, agreed. “I think for a nonchampionship year, this probably is the same as any other Fiesta Bowl,” Henry said. “For a ’tweener, it’s a standout. The game is a sellout.”
While 74,000 Fiesta Bowl tickets were sold — nearly half of them to the teams — it’s questionable whether Sun Devil stadium will be full Saturday when the clash begins.
Tickets are being hawked on eBay and elsewhere for less than face value, and those who snap up discounted tickets at the last minute may be local folks who won’t stay in hotels or fill up local restaurants.
Still, all of the East Valley tourism leaders agreed, a so-so Fiesta Bowl crowd is better than having an empty Sun Devil Stadium — a fate scheduled to happen starting in 2007 when the annual clash moves to the West Valley. “It will be a sad day when it is not in Tempe,” Kreitler said.