The resurgence of the Indiana University men’s basketball team is expected to help boost ticket sales at the Big Ten tournament to levels unseen in several years.
Total attendance for the four-day event that tips off at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis is expected to top last year’s figure of 86,767 and could even surpass the 90,000 mark, last reached in 2006.
“When the local teams are playing well, it definitely brings an added excitement and extra demand for those tickets,” said John Dedman, spokesman for the Indiana Sports Corp., which helps organize the tournament. “There’s an excitement we haven’t seen around IU, in particular, in the last couple of years.”
The Hoosiers, a No. 5 seed, enter the tournament ranked 15th in the nation with a 24-7 record. They will play Penn State University, the No. 12 seed, in the second game on Thursday, starting 30 minutes after the first game ends.
Purdue University, the No. 6 seed, is unranked in national polls but finished with a 20-11 record. The Boilermakers will play the University of Nebraska in the fourth and final game Thursday night.
This is the first year Nebraska is competing in the tournament as the newest member of the Big Ten, which also should help push attendance higher.
The Cornhuskers won just four games this year in conference play and have an overall record of 12-17. But organizers say the team’s mere presence will boost attendance because a fourth game has been added to the first day’s schedule to accommodate 12 teams. Under the new schedule, only four teams receive a first-round bye instead of the usual five.
In past years, one ticket bought entry into all three first-round games. Now separate tickets are needed for the two afternoon games and two evening games.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis’ run of hosting both men’s and women’s Big Ten tournaments ends this year, and officials at the fieldhouse already are looking ahead to next year to fill scheduling gaps created by the losses.
The men’s tournament alternated between Indianapolis and Chicago beginning in 2002 before Indianapolis won the bid in 2008 to host it outright on an annual basis for five years. The women’s Big Ten tournament has been played in Indianapolis every year since it started in 1995. The women’s tournament this year ran from March 1-4 and had total attendance of 38,748.
Starting next year, both the men and women's tourneys will be played at United Center in Chicago. They will return to Indianapolis in 2014 and 2016.
Pacers Sports & Entertainment executives have submitted scheduling requests for next March to the National Basketball Association to help compensate for the loss of the tournaments.
They want the Pacers to play more home games during the beginning of the month, when the tournaments are typically here and go on the road more later in the month. Fieldhouse officials have booked a “very significant” family-type show they wouldn't reveal to occupy the facility when the Pacers are gone.
“It’s a domino situation,” said Rick Fuson, PS&E vice president and director of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “But we ultimately hope to make [the fieldhouse] the permanent home of the Big Ten championships. It’s a great economic generator for not only here, but for the city.”
The men’s games are responsible for $11.2 million of the total $13.6 million in annual economic impact the two tournaments bring to the city, hospitality officials say.