Clemson is preparing for its first major bowl trip in 30 years but the Tigers' trip to the Orange Bowl will not result in a major payday for the program.
In fact, Clemson is projected to take a $185,000 loss for the right to play in the Orange Bowl, according to a bowl estimate obtained by The Post and Courier.
The projected lost dollars underscore a misconception that bowl games are lucrative for programs. In reality, teams traveling to bowl games, even BCS bowls, can struggle to stay in the black financially.
Clemson's profit from last year's trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl trip?
$26,986. The program cleared a paltry $1,200 in its trip to the Gator Bowl in 2009.
This year, Clemson will receive a $1.75 million bowl allowance from the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the program will incur more than $1.91 million in expenses including lodging ($576,696), meals ($148,904), travel costs ($192,250) mileage allowance for players ($114,280) and what can be a major burden -- buying unsold tickets ($390,070).
"There is a perception problem; it's not a windfall," said Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said of the team's Meineke Bowl trip last year. "You just want to be able to break even. Sometimes you don't even break even. But there are significant benefits. You get some extra practice time. And anytime you can get on national television, it continues exposure for your program, which is very significant value."
One big cost is bowl tickets.
Programs are required to purchase the unsold tickets from their bowl ticket allotment. Clemson has sold roughly half of its 17,500 tickets allotment for the Orange Bowl, meaning the program is on the hook to buy 8,500 tickets which is expected to cost the program nearly a half-million dollars.
Last season, Clemson was required to buy 3,859 unsold seats for the Meineke Bowl. Clemson's total net cost of tickets cost the program $253,365.
Connecticut faced a nightmare scenario last season.
Earning its first BCS Bowl berth, the program was able to sell only 4,600 of its 17,500 allotment for the Fiesta Bowl, leaving the program was on hook for nearly $2 million in excess tickets.
Clemson associate AD Katie Hill said the Jan. 4 post-holiday, midweek kickoff of the Orange Bowl makes it a more difficult sell than a traditional New Year's Day timeslot.
"In a practical sense people have to make some pretty big decisions because it is after the holiday season, it is in the middle of the week and kids are back in school," Hill said. "They are some decision points that fans have to make ... Bowls are always about timing associated with the holidays."
What about the $18 million payout the bowl game guarantees the participants? That money goes to the ACC and is equally distributed to member institutions.
Last year, Belk Bowl executive director Will Webb told The Post and Courier he had not discussions with other bowl officials about adjusting the financial burden for programs. The Charlotte bowl sold just 40,000 tickets last year, well below the stadium's 70,000-seat capacity.
"We want it to be a win-win for everyone," Webb said.
Distance is another logistical hurdle for Clemson fans after the Tigers had played in bowl games closer to home last December (Charlotte) and in 2010 (Nashville).
Not only do fans have to travel, but the program must transport and house its team, band, cheerleaders and support staff.