As Outback Bowl fans mingle on the Gulf of Mexico beaches today, tickets to the New Year's Day game continue to sell.
Outback officials said this morning there are between 8,000 and 9,000 tickets remaining for the game.
In a struggling economy, with some bowl games not selling out, will a game here, with two out-of-state teams, fill Raymond James Stadium?
"We think so," said Chuck Riggs, a former executive director of the Outback Bowl board of directors who is volunteering this year. "And we're excited about it."
Enough tickets were sold this past week, he said, to put the bowl in the black.
On game day, if the weather holds out, the sellout likely will be achieved if it isn't before then, he said.
"We're headed to a sellout," he said. "That's our goal."
The Outback Bowl has sold out six of the past seven games, he said.
This year's game throws the South Carolina Gamecocks against the Iowa Hawkeyes. It's the 22nd year of the bowl, which began as the Hall of Fame Bowl. Both teams have appeared here twice before.
Riggs said both teams have strong fan bases and are not all that far from home. Coming down for the holidays, out of the cold, is key to a successful bowl, Riggs said.
Tickets are $65 and available through Ticketmaster. Some packages are sold out, but single seats and high-end packages remain, including one that offers 100 tickets, 25 parking spaces, invitations to VIP events and fun under a corporate tent for $20,000.
Fans from Iowa and South Carolina have streamed into the Tampa Bay area, tasting some of the local offerings and enjoying the near perfect weather.
The Bowl Beach Day is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort. Both college marching bands were to perform on the beach, and a cheerleader tug-of-war match was scheduled. An Outback Bowl sand sculpture was unveiled, and fans were invited to stand in front of it and pose for photos.
Wendy and Kevin Flanders sported bright yellow Iowa T-shirts. They drove here Sunday from their hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, and were enjoying the beach, happy to be away from temperatures that dipped into the 20s this week and the 21 inches of snow.
"We're season ticket holders," Wendy said, but they don't always make it to post-season play.
"If I had my way," she said, "we'd be at all the bowl games."
Nearby, South Carolina alumnus Dan Reece and his wife, Myra, wore their Gamecock red shirts.
They had planned the trip for a while, he said, and sluggish economy or not, they were going to come to Tampa for Thursday's game.
"We would have gone without something else to come here," Myra said.
Also today, a VIP reception for the schools' presidents, coaches and supporters will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at A La Carte Pavilion in Tampa. About 1,600 people are expected.
On Wednesday, the annual New Year's Eve Parade and Ybor Band Blast takes place in Ybor City from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The parade will feature the marching bands from both universities and a pep rally. The parade is along Seventh Avenue between 20th and 14th streets.
The festivities then move to Channelside Bay Plaza, where music and partying are scheduled from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., with a fireworks show set for midnight.