RANTOUL — Brad Martin said he isn’t a big sports follower, but he knows before most die-hard sports fans where college football teams will be playing in bowl games each December and January.
Martin, founder and CEO of Rantoul-based Anywhere Anytime Journeys, contracts with a company that knows the destinations of most, if not all, teams that qualify for a bowl. Martin’s job is to accommodate the travel needs of many of the fans.
“I knew where Illinois was going” a couple of days before the announcement was made, Martin said. “I knew that long before it was official.”
The official announcement that Illinois would be playing in its first bowl game since 2014 — the Red Box Bowl against Cal in Santa Clara, Calif. — was made on Sunday, Dec. 8. Before then, Martin and Eric Barnes, director of business operations for the company, were already working with some of the major universities.
Those include three of the four schools that will compete for the national championship. The semifinalists include Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma and LSU. Martin declined to say which three he is working with.
Overall, he is working with 13 schools headed to bowl games.
Martin explained the arrangement:
“There is an official tour company that works with the alumni associations, and I am their go-to for group air, staffing and all that,” Martin said. “When I’m chartering a flight and the school decides they don’t have enough to fill it, then I come in and start working with group air, and if they don’t have enough people for the group air, then I will book individual airs.”
Martin has worked with some of the colleges since he started his travel company 15 years ago, so he knows their likes and dislikes.
He said he has seen a great deal of interest from Illinois fans and has booked “a lot of individual airline tickets” even though the Red Box Bowl is not one of the major bowls and Santa Clara is not as warm as Los Angeles or Florida.
Illinois has played close-by before — taking on UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011 at San Francisco’s AT&T Stadium.
“If it was the Rose Bowl, because that’s the granddaddy, we’d be so busy it wouldn’t be funny,” Martin said.
He won’t be among those attending The Red Box Bowl because he will be in Rantoul, ready to help with any travelers’ problems.
Martin and Barnes have been putting in some long days — 14 to 16 hours in some cases — this month.
It’s not unusual for Martin to get a call at 1 a.m. from a customer wanting help. From various parts of the globe.
He loves the work.
“I’m usually proactive in the fact that I have a list of who all’s traveling, on what day, where they’re from, and I will look at the weather and see if any storms are coming through to make sure I don’t have to rebook ahead of time. I’ve become a weather man, too.”
Barnes provides Martin with a report every week on who is traveling.
“If I know there is a cyclone in the Pacific I will make sure my clients in Asia aren’t going to be affected,” Martin said. “It saves problems in the long run. There’s still a possibility of being stranded,” but being on top of things reduces that possibility.
The travel agency has been busy booking trips near and far, including to Ireland, China and Italy in the last month alone. And, of course, the Caribbean.
“Now that cold weather has hit and Christmas is around the corner, everybody’s thinking, ‘Oh, wait, spring break.’ We book all types of trips because we are a full-service agency,” Martin said.
But it all gets crazy on bowl announcement weekend. This year’s came later than normal.
Each year as announcements approach, Martin will begin actively working with his tour company contact “to find out if there is any group area they want me to hold for them if they don’t have a charter and they think they might have some people interested,” Martin said.
On Sunday he begins working with the alumni associations and the tour company to determine if they want to do a site inspection of where they might want to visit and check out the football stadium and what will be offered.
He will book group air for charters plus individual air trips for different alumni. Martin also works on staffing for the tour company and alumni.
Martin also caters to other sports fans, including what he calls the “mini bowl” time — March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The company also books trips for Wimbledon, the Kentucky Derby, and he has booked several trips for the Cubs-Cards games June 13 and 14 in London.
Customer service is what keeps people coming back, Martin said. The personal touch.
“I love it. It’s the reason I’m in it,” said Martin, who worked as assistant manager for the Credit Union 1 travel agency in the ‘80s and then for America West and as a flight attendant for American Airlines for 13 years.
Operating his own company is the most fun, he said.
“All of our clients,” he said, are like family.”