NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Sugar Bowl football classic is capping off the tourism year for New Orleans and getting 2014 off to a good start, thanks in part to a matchup between teams with fans known to travel.
Tens of thousands of football fans and their dollars will make their way to the Big Easy for the college football game between third-ranked Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma. Fans are expected to begin arriving this weekend for days of concerts and fanfare leading up to the Sugar Bowl game Jan. 2 at the Superdome.
"Sugar Bowl is always a big deal for us, but it's really a big deal because of the two teams we have this year," said Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They both have very large fan bases."
Jeff Hundley, the Sugar Bowl's chief operating officer, called the matchup a home run.
"They both have reputations for (fans) traveling for their team," he said.
The first Sugar Bowl was played in 1935, and both teams have long histories with it Alabama has been in the game more than any other team, and Oklahoma more than any non-Southeastern Conference team. And both play in a similar color scheme, so Bourbon Street should be a sea of red.
Alabama first played in the Sugar Bowl in 1945, when the Crimson Tide lost to Duke. The Oklahoma Sooners' first appearance came in 1949, when the team beat North Carolina.
"These teams both have a history of having fun here, and their proximity to New Orleans is also going to play a big part in getting them here," Hundley said.
Sugar Bowl fanfare will overlap the city's New Year's Eve festivities. On the agenda are days of concerts along bank of the Mississippi River, games and fireworks displays.
The celebration, which officially begins Dec. 31, is expected to generate some $150 million for the city, Schulz said.
Schulz said hotels were at more than 90 percent capacity for the two days leading up to the big game, and Hundley said ticket sales were on target for a sellout.
There were 75,000 tickets available for the game, and Schulz said some 100,000 fans were expected to make their way to New Orleans.
"Some just come to tailgate," she said.
Game-day events include a "Fan Jam" outside the Superdome beginning at 4 p.m. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
The Sugar Bowl is part of a thriving sports tourism industry in New Orleans. For 25 years, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation has been in the business of luring multimillion-dollar events to south Louisiana, among them Super Bowls, Final Fours, fishing tournaments and even Olympic trials.
Since the foundation's inception in 1988, it has led successful bids for three Super Bowls, three men's college basketball Final Fours, three women's Final Fours, three Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournaments, four Bassmaster Classic fishing tournaments and other events.
The events collectively produce an economic benefit of roughly $2 billion for the city and state.
The city is working to bring the 2018 Super Bowl to New Orleans in conjunction with the city's 300th anniversary. There also are efforts underway to bring back men's and women's basketball Final Fours sometime between 2017 and 2020.