JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was an eight or nine out of 10.
That was the grade given to this season’s TaxSlayer Gator Bowl by Gator Bowl Sports president Greg McGarity.
“There’s always room for improvement. We certainly have areas that we’d like to improve on and make it better for the teams and the fans. But all in all, if you take everything in totality, I think it was a great week,” McGarity said.
“The weather was absolutely phenomenal. That’s how a lot of people remember bowl games. But I just think we had good report cards from South Carolina. I know Notre Dame had a great time and a great visit. So there’s always ways to improve. But I was really proud of the effort that our staff gave, as well as everyone associated with us from outside of our office.”
The matchup featuring Notre Dame and South Carolina was expected to create a hot ticket and an attractive television game.
It did that and more, with the Irish winning a 45-38 shootout.
Among all of the games played during bowl season prior to the national championship game, only the Rose Bowl and the two national semifinals, the Peach and Fiesta Bowls drew more fans to the game than the Gator Bowl’s 67,383.
“We knew the possibilities that were ahead of us,” McGarity said. “And the way the South Carolina fans responded and the way the Notre Dame fans responded and the community as well, It really was a phenomenal week, capped by a fantastic game that certainly had phenomenal crowds and exceptional TV ratings. So we were, we were just so happy with everything.”
One of the key drivers of ticket sales came not from Notre Dame, the school with the huge national footprint, but from Gamecocks fans who could make the manageable drive to the game.
“South Carolina fans have always been passionate,” McGarity said. “I recognize that being in the SEC forever. And to know that their fans have been behind them through thick and thin and coming off victories over the two Orange Bowl participants, Clemson and Tennessee, certainly elevated their stature and interest in the game.
“So we knew that they were hot. The number of fans it turned out was probably in excess of 45,000 from the South Carolina fans. So they were passionate. They were vocal and certainly showed well here in Jacksonville for the game.”
As for the television ratings, the Gator Bowl drew more viewers nationally than any game outside of the New Year’s Six and even outdrew the Cotton Bowl. From a TV perspective, 5.766 million viewers watched the game. That’s more than the Cheez-It Bowl featuring Oklahoma and Florida State and more than the Alamo Bowl with Texas and Washington.
“South Carolina has a great presence here in the state of Florida, as well as Notre Dame,” McGarity said. “They’re such a national brand that Notre Dame fans came throughout the country, but certainly well represented by both schools.”
The impact on the local economy is still being tabulated, but the success of the game and the smooth operations could impact team assignments in the future, according to McGarity.
“These teams talk with their peers within each conference, and I have no doubt that Notre Dame will certainly share that with the members of the ACC as well as South Carolina with the SEC,” McGarity said. “So when it comes down to teams wanting to participate, say in a bowl game, and Tampa, Orlando or Jacksonville, where the SEC kind of dominates the bowl teams in that area. I think they’ll speak very favorably about this experience and all the amenities that we have.”
Since the game was played, a report detailing the Jaguars’ plans to reduce capacity at TIAA Bank Field as part of a major renovation to the stadium surfaced, saying that the Jaguars would reduce capacity to around 57,000. While that would reduce the chances for a major turnout like this year’s game — the highest attendance since 2011 — it will also increase the chance for demand for Gator Bowl tickets in the future.
“We’d love to be in a position to where we’re sold out every year,” McGarity said. “If you were to tell me that we were going to have 57,000 fans at the Gator Bowl from now on, I’d take that and run with it.”