For the first time in 21 years, the Kansas State Alumni Association isn’t organizing a flight to K-State’s bowl destination. It tried and failed to sell enough tickets to justify the chartered plane fans have routinely packed since the Wildcats’ first postseason appearance under coach Bill Snyder.
But that doesn’t mean K-State football fans lack enthusiasm for the Liberty Bowl. It simply indicates they would rather drive than fly to Memphis, Tenn., where K-State will face Arkansas on Jan. 2.
“We sold out all of our other travel packages, which include more than 200 hotel rooms in Memphis,” said Amy Button Renz, president of the alumni association. “We are expecting a great turnout. It’s such an easy location to drive to that people are making their own travel plans.”
It’s difficult to predict exactly how many K-State fans will attend the game, but Button Renz said 15,000 is “certainly realistic.”
K-State fans typically travel well to bowl games. The university boasts that its supporters are responsible for the three largest crowds to cross state lines for a bowl, including 45,000 for the 1997 Fiesta Bowl. Outside of a 1994 trip to Honolulu’s Aloha Bowl, K-State’s last bowl without a fan charter, the Wildcats have played in front of at least 10,000 friendly faces in each of Snyder’s bowls.
But there was concern a smaller group would attend the Liberty Bowl. Coming off a 6-6 season in which the Wildcats battled injuries, lost six straight and needed to win their final three to become bowl eligible, fan excitement was subdued.
But K-State has sold approximately 7,500 tickets and expects to sell the remaining 500 of its allotment, said Scott Garrett, senior associate athletic director for external operations. K-State expects several thousand more fans to purchase tickets from other vendors.
“I believe our fans are excited about this game,” athletic director John Currie said. “It is a perfect fit for us, in that it is a trip that our fans can get to. They can drive there, and tickets are affordable. They are all great seats in a stadium that has predominantly sideline seats. The afternoon kickoff means people can get there and get home.”
Memphis is a nine-hour drive from Manhattan, Kan., but the road is shorter from Wichita and Kansas City.
Arkansas fans have an even easier path. The Razorbacks sold their full allotment of tickets to the Liberty Bowl right away and asked for more. They expect at least 17,000 fans to be in attendance. The Liberty Bowl, which seats 61,008, reports it is nearing a sellout.
The K-State football team will arrive by plane Dec. 28 and begin a week of practices and events that include a welcome party and shopping spree at the world’s largest Bass Pro Shops, tickets to a Memphis Grizzlies basketball game and a rodeo.
The Wildcats also will make an appearance at K-State’s bowl pep rally at noon Jan. 1 inside Autozone Park in downtown Memphis. Button Renz is already looking forward to the pep rally, describing it as the week’s top event.
Currie hopes to see purple all across town. This will be K-State’s 19th bowl appearance, but its first trip to the Liberty Bowl. Fans appear to be embracing the new, and conveniently located, destination.
“Iowa State went to the Liberty Bowl a few years ago, and they took a tremendous amount of people. Kansas State fans should be the same way,” Currie said. “A higher percentage of our fans can access this bowl than they could flying to Phoenix or somewhere else.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett