You’d think the Jan. 2 gridiron clash in Tempe between Notre Dame and Ohio State universities is for the college football championship based on the frenetic pace of people looking for game tickets and East Valley hotel rooms.
Since Sunday’s announcement, phones have been ringing off the hook at local hotels, Midwest tour operators offices and at Fiesta Bowl headquarters.
"We’ve been bombarded," said Shawn Schoeffler, Fiesta Bowl spokesman.
"It’s been unbelievable," Schoeffler said. "Call volume for tickets is at a level normally seen only for championship games."
That translates to an estimated $200 million of economic impact, Schoeffler said, 14 percent more than last year’s estimated $175 million boost for the Utah-Pitt matchup.
Of nearly 74,000 tickets, each school gets 15,000 and the rest are all spoken for, mostly by local hotels and corporate sponsors who get to host big-spending VIP clients.
Previous ticket holders get first dibs, Schoeffler said. Typically, 95 percent to 98 percent of them renew, and the remaining tickets go to those on a waiting list. By the time the game is announced, it’s been sold out.
If the matchup is a good one, seats will sell at online auction sites or by ticket brokers for much more than face value.
It will take a few weeks to see how much Fiesta Bowl tickets will rise, but having two teams from cold climates with well-traveled and wellheeled alumni bodes well for Valley tourism.
"When you get two Midwestern teams like this — this is the game we want," said Robert Brinton, director of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau.
East Valley hoteliers are jumping for joy.
"We are all doing the happy dance," said Sherry Henry, general manager of the Fiesta Inn in Tempe. Just 24 hours after the lineup was announced, Henry’s hotel was turning bookings away.
"By 10 a.m. (Monday) we were sold out of tickets, sold out of rooms, sold out of everything," she said.
The Hilton Phoenix East-Mesa, "maximized our rates and sold 100 rooms on Sunday," said David Muth, general manager. "We knew it would go crazy from the last time Ohio State came."
In fact, Ohio State fans have been swamping Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau lines for several weeks betting on a Fiesta Bowl bid, said spokeswoman Toni Smith. By late Monday they were snapping up rooms, regardless of whether they have game tickets, she said.
"Some hotels are sold out already," Smith said mid-Monday. "Those that aren’t have only a few rooms left."
At the Chaparral Suites Hotel in Scottsdale, groups of hopeful Notre Dame fans started making room reservations a couple of weeks before their spot at the Fiesta Bowl was sealed, said general manager Tom Silverman.
And AnthonyTravel.com, Notre Dame’s official tour operator, sold all of its 1,000 ticket-plus-room packages weeks ago, said owner John Anthony.
Since Sunday, he’s been selling three-night minimum stays at about a dozen East Valley hotels to those still hoping to score a ticket. Some will stay as far from Sun Devil Stadium as the Carefree Inn or the JW Marriott Resort at Desert Ridge in north Phoenix, he said.
At Notre Dame alumni headquarters, which gets to dole out the school’s 15,000 tickets, executive director Chuck Lennon expects about 22,000 applicants. The group is staging a lottery to determine holders of prized pairs of tickets.
He said he expects all 22,000 parties to head to the East Valley anyway.
"They’ll find other ways to get tickets," he said.
And even for those who don’t get tickets, Notre Dame will have plenty of other activities to keep them happy, Lennon said.
"We’ll set up a hospitality center in the hotel starting Dec. 27 with games, giveaways," he said "We’ll even bring the bookstore with us."
Lennon said negotiations are still in progress about which hotel among several where the school has reserved blocks will serve as alumni headquarters.
The Notre Dame team will stay at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort. Ohio State players will be at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort. Bands have booked into various other East Valley properties.
The matchup is a fitting farewell to Tempe, Brinton said. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and the next time the Valley hosts the BCS championship, will be in Glendale.
"What a great sendoff," Brinton said.
Valley tourism leaders say they will be sorry to see it go, but most said they still expect to land lots of gamegoers even after the move west.
"We hope they will continue to stay with us," Silverman said. "We think they will because of all that goes on in Scottsdale."
And Tempe, which hosts the hugely popular Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Block Party on New Year’s Eve, the only non-Notre Dame sponsored event for sale on Anthony’s Web site, is equally optimistic.
"That is a Tempe event and it won’t change," said Chris Kenney, marketing director for the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel. "We think there will always be demand here. (Fiesta Bowl) is a tremendous event, but people also come to play golf, shop and do other things."