Sugar Bowl staff returns to New Orleans, but not Dome

Updated: March 12, 2006, 5:31 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Finally, the Sugar Bowl staff is home after spending six weeks in limbo after Hurricane Katrina and six months in Atlanta, where the bowl game was moved because of the damage to the Louisiana Superdome.

Their offices in the Superdome remain closed, along with the rest of the building, so Sugar Bowl staffers have moved into a suite on the top floor of a building in Metairie.

Although the Superdome is scheduled to reopen in September, the bowl offices will remain headquartered in Metairie through next year's game.

"We'll get it all straightened out eventually," said receptionist Kelli Bourgeois, one of eight staff members who lived in an Atlanta hotel for six months, finally wrapping up business there Feb. 23. "We're all glad to be back, but the reality hits you that you now have to deal with everything every day.

"In Atlanta, you could put them aside because we were so busy."

That, bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan said, makes him deeply grateful for the work the group did in staging the game in a strange setting.

"I give them a tremendous amount of credit," Hoolahan said. "They put the bowl above their own personal problems and made it something special. Everyone from top to bottom was impressed with the job we did. It gave us a feeling that if we could handle this, we can handle just about anything."

Good thing, because the bowl returns to a challenging situation, and not just because of Katrina.

It's the first year of the new BCS double-hosting setup that adds a fifth game, to be played a week before the championship game at the same site.

The Sugar Bowl's turn to stage both games comes after the 2007 season, but already issues have popped up -- like finding out that hotel space is harder to come by around the title game date of Jan. 8.

Then there is dealing with Fox, which takes over the TV contract from ABC, ending a 35-year association with the bowl.

There also will be a new title sponsor because Nokia ended its relationship after 12 years. An announcement is expected within the next two months.

A new automobile partner must be found as well, and many local and regional sponsors are uncertain about renewing their ties.

And most daunting, the Sugar Bowl must increase its payment to the BCS by 35 percent over the current undisclosed amount, even though the new contract gives Fox some of the advertising and sponsorship revenue that formerly went to the bowl.

A year ago, Hoolahan said the bowl would be raising its average ticket price from $85 to $125. Now it might be more, although the Superdome renovation prevents a ticket manifest from being drawn up yet.

"We've got to figure out what the marketplace will bear," said Hoolahan, adding that this year's game broke even rather than turning a profit, which usually is the case in most non-championship years. "But there is more than a little bit of concern."

At least the Dome will be open, so there will be no having to move the game to Tiger Stadium or even back to Atlanta. However, the adjacent Hyatt Hotel, which serves as the media and title sponsor hotel, is expected to still be out of commission.

"There's a lot of uncharted water we'll be trying to navigate," Hoolahan said. "Just creating a new logo that incorporates our new title sponsor is very time-consuming. We're about a month behind, but sometimes it feels like more. In a lot of areas, we're starting from scratch."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press