STANFORD -- Never underestimate the drawing power of Pasadena on New Year's Day.
A Stanford fan base that didn't get too excited about a Pac-12 championship football game on its own campus a week ago now has snapped up 35,000 tickets and counting for a trip to the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl, where the Cardinal will face Wisconsin on Jan. 1.
"The Rose Bowl is the Rose Bowl," Stanford ticket director Rich Muschell said Thursday. "People get pretty pumped up for that."
The fact that the 11-2 Cardinal haven't been to the "granddaddy of them all" since 2000 has created pent-up demand for the $150 and $185 tickets, he suggested. And having 12,000 alumni in Los Angeles and 20,000 in Southern California overall have helped sales, as well.
"In one point in the '50s and '60s, I think nearly half of the Stanford student body came from Southern California," Stanford sports historian Jim Rutter said. "These are people now in position to write checks to buy $185 premium tickets to the Rose Bowl."
The game is Stanford's third consecutive appearance in a BCS bowl. And while geography is a big factor, Muschell noted more than twice as many Cardinal fans are already committed to the Rose Bowl than the 16,000 who were in Glendale, Ariz., for the 2012 Fiesta Bowl or the 13,000 in Miami for the 2011 Orange Bowl.
When it's the Rose Bowl, "the excitement level gets stoked by a factor of about five," said Muschel, who anticipated the Stanford delegation could reach 37,000.
Stanford earned its Rose Bowl berth Nov. 30 with a 27-24 victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 title game before a sparse crowd of 31,622. A 5 p.m. Friday start with heavy rains in the forecast against a familiar opponent contributed to the fact that 50,000-seat Stanford Stadium looked half full.
For the Cardinal athletic department, the struggle to sell seats that night has been replaced by the frenzy to try and line up more for the Rose Bowl.
"It's a pot of black coffee that keeps things going here," Muschel said, "but for ticket people, this is the stuff we live for. We're tearing our hair out by the roots, but this is what makes it fun."
The situation has been different for Wisconsin, which is making its third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance despite only an 8-5 record. Reports there indicate the novelty has worn off after the Badgers lost to TCU in 2011 and Oregon in 2012, and ticket sales have been sluggish. Initial reports said only 13,000 of the 24,000 allocated had been snapped up.
But Kevin Ash, chief administrative officer of the Rose Bowl game, said Thursday that it was too soon to redirect any of those seats to Stanford.
"We just started selling Monday, and we probably have two weeks of strong selling to do," Ash said, adding the news Thursday that athletic director Barry Alvarez will be coaching the Badgers in place of departed Bret Biliema could boost sales.
The Rose Bowl, he explained, is a contractual sellout with only about 1,000 seats available to the general public. Those not allocated to Stanford and Wisconsin are distributed to about 35 partners including all Pac-12 and Big Ten schools, the Tournament of Roses and various sponsors.
Some seats, however, do show up on the secondary ticket market. StubHub, for example, listed 3,773 available at prices from $150 high in the end zone to $2,235 in the club level.
Stanford may not get to the Rose Bowl often, but the school's fans do historically show up in big numbers with the game only 356 miles away. About 30,000 were cheering on the Cardinal in its 17-9 loss to Wisconsin in 2000 and a 1970 newspaper account said 38,000 seats were allocated to Stanford for its 27-17 victory over Ohio State in 1971.