UCF fans gear up for Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day



PHOENIX, Ariz. - University of Central Florida Knights fans are gearing up for the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.

However, the university didn't sell as many tickets to the game as it had hoped, so it won't bring in all the revenue required to cover expenses.

But UCF President John Hitt said it's all about exposure for the university.

"How could you ever envision buying this kind of exposure. And even if you had the money, it might be hard to assemble it all," said Hitt.

Hitt and head coach George O'Leary, along with the team's starters, attended Media Day Monday at the JW Marriott Camelback Resort in Arizona.

"People can't have an attitude toward you if they don't even know your name. And UCF is being so widely used on the national media now that it's got to have some impact," said Hitt.

Channel 9's Berndt Petersen was there Monday as a group of 15 people, including UCF grads and their children, arrived in Arizona.

The Aliberti and Balasis families are inseparable, especially when it's time to cheer on the Knights.

"It's just a great feeling. The kids have grown up UCF. It's a great feeling. No words can explain it," said UCF alum Perry Balasis.

"We've had season tickets since we were in diapers, so we've grown up with UCF," said fan Brandon Aliberti.

"It's been great always spending time with each other," said fan Bryce Balasis. "Being at the games, being on vacation, going to all the bowl games."

Several fans sporting their black and gold could also be seen in the terminal at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Sunday.

"We all made the trip to come here. There's about 50 of us to arrive, and I'm the first of about 50 and we're all coming from Orlando," UCF alumna Kenya Davis said.

Many of the people who spoke with WFTV are UCF alumni who have remained loyal fans and agree that the football team has never been better.

"We've followed this program since the start and to get to a BCS bowl game, the last year for an opportunity to play in the BCS -- it means everything," UCF grad Bill Terrill said.

Some fans said they didn't think twice about flying halfway across the country for the Fiesta Bowl. Many of them have been season ticket holders for decades.

"It seems like over the 25 years I've had season tickets and been attending games, that every time we take a step like that, it always means something big," UCF alumnus Jeff Perdue said.

Despite the expense of making the trip to Arizona, fans said the experience is worth every penny.

Hitt sayid the university could actually lose money off the trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

 He said expenses are enormous. 

While officials try to minimize the loss, they're working to maximize the buzz, and capitalize off all the attention. 

 From coast to coast, people are watching the team. Recruiting more top football players may get easier, as well as recruiting more of the best and brightest to make UCF their first choice for their education.

Hitt said a sense of pride has been building on campus in recent years.

 "What you do like to see is something that will give the aura of a winner -- a highly competitive institution -- and perhaps help us recruit more really top quality, leadership quality kids," said Hitt.