Ticket sales are moving along briskly for the ACC championship game and the Belk Bowl – Charlotte’s signature college football events held each December at Bank of America Stadium.
That means the Leatherheads are at it again.
Named for a college football-themed movie filmed in Charlotte and starring George Clooney, the Leatherheads are a group of local business and civic leaders who want to see the sport flourish in Charlotte.
The best way to do that is to help sell tickets each year to the ACC title game, scheduled for Dec. 7, and the Belk Bowl on Dec. 28.
Despite the challenges of not always having matchups that might be attractive to Charlotte fans, both games have consistently drawn large crowds.
Ticket sales for the ACC championship game are approaching 45,000, according to Leatherheads executive director Will Webb, with a spike expected after Saturday’s Atlantic Division showdown between Clemson and Florida State.
Webb said the Belk Bowl, which features teams from the ACC and American Athletic Conference (formerly Big East), has already exceeded 35,000 tickets sold.
Much of the credit goes to the Leatherheads.
“We sell the fact that this is something that will be a great not only for the games in Charlotte, but the city itself,” said Jubal Early, a real estate executive who is the Leatherheads’ president.
Formed in 2010, the Leatherheads quickly became a sales force to be reckoned with.
Although a Leatherhead will sell you an individual ticket, the group’s primary focus is packages to groups and businesses.
“Those are the places where we think we can make a pretty good impact,” said Ben Dobson, the group’s communications director.
The group has goals for each of its 60 members: at least $4,000 in ticket sales to the ACC game and at least $4,000 for the Belk Bowl. A member who doesn’t meet those goals isn’t invited back and is responsible for $1,000 in Belk Bowl tickets if that minimum isn’t met.
But incentives are attractive. One Leatherhead recently won a trip to ESPN’s campus in Bristol, Conn.
The Leatherheads still have some work to do internally. They’d like to increase their membership to 100. Webb also said he is trying to improve the group’s diversity.
Since coming to Charlotte in 2010 after six years of middling success in Florida, the ACC title game has had an average attendance of 70,277 in 73,298-seat Bank of America Stadium. With this season’s game featuring a possible matchup of either Clemson or Florida State from the Atlantic Division against current Coastal leader Virginia Tech, another large crowd would be expected.
Charlotte’s bowl has been a tougher sell in its 11-year history, with the game featuring mid-level teams from the ACC and the American Athletic Conference. Last season’s game between Duke and Cincinnati and drew 41,128; in 2011, N.C. State and Louisville had a crowd of 58,427.
But the recent announcement that the Belk Bowl will be an ACC-SEC matchup beginning in 2014 was good news for the Leatherheads.
“Knowing there’s going to be an SEC team coming in here each year has been huge for us,” said Early. “The Big East was a tough sell. The SEC is much easier.”
Belk, now in its third year as the game’s title sponsor, has also been key in ratcheting up the game’s visibility. The department store chain has used social media, pre-game entertainment and tie-ins with local stores to help boost the bowl’s image.
“What Belk is doing with their sponsorship and marketing has really been a game changer for us,” said Webb, also executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, which manages both games.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14