On the morning of January 13th at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana lawmakers will be sworn into office for the start of their four-year terms.
Many of them will then zip down Interstate 10 to New Orleans to see the Tigers play in the national championship game later on inauguration day, if the LSU football team beats the University of Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl semifinal. They'll be taking advantage of a longstanding, but little-known legislative perk that has become fruitful this year amid LSU’s undefeated run.
Two dozen Louisiana House members and 20 state Senators – some of whom will have left office by the time the game takes place at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – took up an offer to buy face-value, end zone tickets for $600 a piece from the game’s host committee. Meanwhile, 95 of 105 representatives and 38 of 39 senators opted for a similar offer from LSU to buy tickets to at least one of the postseason games, which include the SEC championship game, Peach Bowl and potentially the National Championship game, though they won’t pay for the championship game tickets unless the No. 1 seed LSU makes it.
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The longstanding tradition awards politicians the ability to buy coveted postseason tickets before they hit the pricey secondary markets, where tickets in the same section as the seats offered by the host committee were going for upwards of $2,000 on StubHub as of Monday.
“There are very, very few perks in the Legislature,” said state Sen. Conrad Appel, a term-limited Republican from Metairie who steps down on the morning of Jan. 13 and bought the $600 plaza end zone tickets for the College Football National Championship game later that night. “It costs a fortune to work in the Legislature ... If there are a couple perks, I don’t think it is a really bad thing.”
LSU has for years offered lawmakers the option to buy face-value tickets to LSU bowl games, similar to how it handles postseason tickets for season ticket-holders. LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said lawmakers are given access to a portal that asks which games they want tickets for, if LSU makes it. On Saturday, when the Tigers trounced Georgia in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, 47 legislators had tickets through the arrangement. LSU also gives legislators and statewide officials the opportunity to buy season tickets for regular season games.
Prices for lawmakers to attend the semi-final Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 28 in Atlanta are either $175 or $300 a ticket, depending on the seat, according to a postseason ticket request form given out by LSU. National championship tickets range from $425 to $875 a seat.
State Rep. Barry Ivey, a Baton Rouge Republican, got tickets to the SEC Championship game through the LSU arrangement and gave them to his father, and likewise gives away his season tickets he gets through the same process. Ivey said he’s lined up to also get national championship tickets through LSU if the team makes it, and he’ll probably go himself.
“It allows lawmakers to get at the front of the line knowing the demand will exceed the supply. That’s a fact,” Ivey said. “It’s 100% a perk of the job.”
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At the same time, Ivey said the reason LSU or other organizations offer the tickets is for the ability to network with representatives and highlight new investments in the facilities. For instance, he attended a home game earlier this year and was given a tour of the new athletic facility, which was paid for by private dollars.
Baton Rouge Democratic state Rep. Ted James said he usually lets a constituent purchase his ticket, though he did attend the Final Four when it was held at the Superdome in New Orleans in 2012. This year he bought national championship tickets through the host committee.
“For me, the undefeated season is why I took advantage of it,” James said. “If LSU doesn’t make it, I’ll probably give them away to a constituent.”
The host committee that puts on the national championship game also got $4 million in state tax dollars earlier this year through the Legislature. Jeff Hundley, the CEO of the Sugar Bowl and executive director for the New Orleans College Football Championship Host Committee, said it costs between $12 million and $18 million for the organization to put on the game, about $8 million of which comes from the reserves of the Sugar Bowl, which is also held in New Orleans. The rest comes from fundraising.
The offer to lawmakers is a “courtesy we’ve done over the years,” Hundley said, adding the Allstate Sugar Bowl regularly offers tickets to lawmakers in years when New Orleans is not hosting a national championship.
The tradition is decades old, and also applies to some postseason basketball and football games.
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Gov. John Bel Edwards, an avid LSU football fan, will attend the game in a suite the Superdome offers to Louisiana governors, said Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens. In fact, the governor decided to scrap the inaugural ball – traditionally held the night of the inauguration – because of the football game.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser opted into the offer from LSU for postseason tickets, said spokesman Julio Guichard, but he has not yet decided whether he will attend. Staff for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain confirmed they won’t be attending the national championship.
The lawmakers who end up at the game in January will not be the first. The last time LSU played for a national title, in 2012, every state senator and all but three state representatives at the time bought tickets through either LSU or the Sugar Bowl Committee for $350 a piece, only to see the Tigers lose 21-0 to Alabama in the Louisiana Superdome.
Likewise, the New Orleans Saints offered Super Bowl tickets to a range of Louisiana state government officials in 2013 for face value.
As for whether the tradition should be continued, Ivey said, “I can take it, I can leave it.”
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