At the nearby Betsy Hotel, rooms start at about $500 for Saturday night, compared to $400 for the following Saturday. “It’s what we call unrestrained demand,’’ said General Manager Jeff Lehman. “Meaning pricing doesn’t seem to matter.”
Lehman and other hoteliers said the BCS timing is particularly helpful, giving a boost on the heels of a slowdown after New Year’s and before the peak of tourism season begins in February. ESPN is broadcasting live off Ocean Drive, and organizers have set up a zipline, Nike pavilion and a concert stage nearby for a weekend of fan-related activities — including a Sunday concert by Flo Rida.
And while the hotel bookings don’t compare to Super Bowl, BCS brings the kind of demand that can boost rates throughout the region.
The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates about 95 percent of the county’s hotel rooms are full this weekend. That’s compared to 77 percent for the same weekend last year in Miami-Dade, when the BCS championship was played in New Orleans. Nicki Grossman, tourism director for Greater Fort Lauderdale, said 45 hotels are sold out in Broward, where Hollywood’s Westin Diplomat is the official hotel for the Notre Dame team.
A BCS game does not always guarantee a hotel windfall. The last time Miami Gardens hosted the college championship was in 2009, when the Oklahoma Sooners took on the Florida Gators. Oklahoma didn’t draw many travelers, while Gator fans didn’t need many hotel rooms for the short trip many of them took to Sun Life.
This is Jeff Cable’s third trip to see Alabama play in the championship game — an expensive encore for many fellow fans. “I don’t want to say it’s redundant. It’s a championship,” Cable, a golf-course owner from Jasper, Ala., said as he nursed a neon-orange frozen drink at Wet Willie’s off Ocean Drive with a fellow Tide fan, Jeff Burroughs. “But it’s a five- or six-thousand-dollar weekend.”
The BCS game is expensive for South Florida, too. Under its current deal with college athletic conferences, the Orange Bowl pays a $6 million flat fee to host the Orange Bowl, plus another $11 million to actually put on the event and surrounding festivities, according to budget figures on file with Miami Beach. The BCS championship game requires an additional $8 million fee, plus enough added expenses to bring the overall budget to $30 million this year.
The extra game is a relatively new feature that still causes confusion. Without a play-off system, college football had no way of declaring a true national champion, and instead fans relied on various rankings to sort out the No. 1 team from No. 2.
College administrators moved to fix that in the late 1998, when the official championship began rotating among the four major bowl games — including the Orange Bowl. But in 2006, a separate BCS championship game debuted — college football’s version of the Super Bowl.
Miami Gardens got that game twice under the original deal, which expires next year. Hosting the BCS championship game costs the Orange Bowl committee an additional $8 million fee to colleges, with this year’s total budget for both games topping $30 million.
Most of the revenue comes from ticket sales and sponsorships, said Saks, of the Orange Bowl Committee. The committee gives away about $1 million a year in charitable grants, including funding two parks in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Saks said he did not know how much competition South Florida will actually face once the BCS rotation ends. He noted that the region has already proven itself as attractive to fans when the big game was slotted for Miami Gardens.
“I think the South Florida community has offered a lot,’’ he said. “It’s not just about money, it’s about the destination and its tradition and its history.”