Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tourney tickets plentiful this year


Bob Donohoe had not even considered trying to get tickets to this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Those are usually handed down like family heirlooms.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, he heard the ACC was putting seats up for sale just like any other event. So he doled out more than $1,000 for three ticket books, drove to Atlanta from Winston-Salem, N.C., and — voila — there he was watching from a seat in the third deck of the Georgia Dome alongside his wife and daughter.

They had an entire section to themselves.

“We’ve even got our own toilets,” Donohoe quipped.

This may be March Madness, but the struggling economy has clearly taken a toll on attendance at most league tournaments. The ACC sold tickets to the general public for the first time since 1966. There were thousands of empty seats at the Southeastern Conference tourney in Tampa, Fla. The Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12 and Conference USA also reported drop-offs from previous years.

Only the Big East, which again sold out Madison Square Garden after inviting all 16 teams for the first time, managed to avoid a slide.

“When you look at everything going on in the economy, people can’t afford certain things,” Georgia Tech guard Lewis Clinch said after his team was eliminated in the quarterfinals. “We’re thankful for what we did have here.”

The ACC was caught in a two-sided predicament. Not only has the financial meltdown forced nearly everyone to tighten their belts, this year’s tournament was held at a domed football stadium capable of holding some 36,000 fans even when half the building is curtained off — about 13,000 more than the event’s regular home in Greensboro, N.C.

The league sold 26,352 tickets, each costing $363 for an 11-game book, more than any other postseason tournament but still far short of the record attendance set in 2001 when the event was last held at the Georgia Dome.

That year, the ACC averaged 36,505 per session, with a high of 40,083.

In Tampa, the SEC averaged 11,612 for the opening round and 13,717 for the quarterfinals at the 20,500-seat St. Pete Times Forum. It didn’t get any easier to pump up attendance when Kentucky and Florida, the two best draws, were both eliminated before the weekend.

Only 10,387 showed up for Saturday’s semifinals.

“I don’t think you’re turning on the TV and seeing sold-out conference tournaments or conference tournaments at complete capacity anywhere,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. “There’s not a lot of expendable dollars out there.”

Attendance at the Big Ten tournament in basketball-mad Indianapolis was down nearly 10,000 through the first four sessions compared to 2008. At the end of Saturday’s semis, they announced that tickets still remained for Sunday’s championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Penn State fans Dan Ward and Christina Davies drove 81⁄2 hours from State College, Pa., but they had an advantage over fans who doled out $250 for an all-session ticket.

“I actually work for the athletic department, so the tickets were free,” said Ward, a recent Penn State graduate. “It’s probably the only reason I came. If I couldn’t get free tickets, I probably wouldn’t have come.”

The Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City averaged 15,672 through the first four sessions, on pace to be the fourth-lowest average in the event’s 13-year history. That’s also a significant slide from the average of 18,879 two years ago, the only other time it was held at the Ford Center.


jayhawkinATL 10 years, 10 months ago

He got screwed!!! Nothing worse than trying to watch a b-ball game from the 3rd deck of the Georgia Dome. I did that when the 'hawks were here for the 2002 Final Four. Much better off to watch it on TV if your only option is the 3rd deck.

Dyrk Dugan 10 years, 10 months ago

the Big 12 will be back in KC where it belongs for the next couple of know attendance will be higher, even if the economy is still in the doldrums.

Scott Smetana 10 years, 10 months ago

No doubt jhawk.. basketball does NOT belong in a Superdome. I was in Detroit last year for the Regionals. Even the first level regular seats STUNK. They only ones worth buying ($$$$) are the risers. Anything else is worthless.

Scott Perlmutter 10 years, 10 months ago

I wanted to go but I couldn't afford the tickets. Why are Big XII tourney tickets far more expensive than any NCAA site tickets? I could go to the Sweet 16/Elite 8 and the Final 4 for the same price as the Big XII tourney. That is why attendance is down, they charge outrageous prices for it. Nobody wants to spend over $100 a game for their team, and that is if they make the championship game.

Jim Pendleton 10 years, 10 months ago

mutt, here is your answer - The Big 12, as well as the ACC, SEC, & Big 10, have eleven total games over six sessions in their conference tournaments. Face value per ticket in OKC this year was $330 or $55 per session. Not bad considering each session except the finals have two games each in them. You pay $55 for one game at Allen for a regular season game.

The NCAA first/second round games at Sprint Center are $189 or $63 per session. Keep in mind that the first/second round games only have three sessions with two games in each one versus the six sessions for conference tourney.

The Regionals and Final Four weekends have two sessions, but I haven't seen the costs for those. Sure they are higher than first round weekend. The other issue is pure supply and demand. As long as people keep paying the higher prices for these games, the conferences and NCAA will continue to charge those amounts. If it ever gets to a point where Final Fours and Regionals don't sell out in advance, then perhaps you might see a price drop. You might also see a return to the old dome set-up for games versus this ridiculous center of the field set-up they have now.

I left OKC on Friday after we lost so I can only make this comment based on what I have heard and read. None of the sessions in OKC were sold out, and that includes the Thurs evening session when OSU & OU played. The box scores from the past couple days would tell you there were 3-4K unsold tickets for those sessions. Yes I agree the economy is part of this, but I feel I can safely say that would not have been the case had those games been in KC. That point needs to be proven the next couple years by all the local schools, not just KU.

DalTXJayhawk 10 years, 10 months ago

Should also tell the selection committee that mu does not travel well. Wondering if that could work against KU, as the committee would be more comfortable sending us to MN and mu to KC.

Had KU been in the finals, I think it would have been different.

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