Ticket brokers took a gut punch Sunday when NCAA officials announced that Indiana University would not play in the Midwest Regional of the men's basketball tournament in Indianapolis even if it won its first two tourney games.
Brokers aren’t the only ones expected to take some lumps. Though local tourism officials expect downtown’s 7,100 hotel rooms to be sold out on March 29 and 30, they say the overall economic impact is likely to take a $1.5-million-plus hit because of the decision to send IU elsewhere.
IU received a No. 1 seed but will be playing in the East Regional with games starting in Dayton, Ohio. If the Hoosiers win those games, they will play their Sweet 16 games in Washington, D.C.
The Midwest Regional in Indianapolis could still contain some popular programs. The four highest seeds that could be headed for Lucas Oil Stadium are the University of Louisville, Duke University, Michigan State University and St. Louis University.
“Ticket demand has certainly slipped,” said Mike Peduto, partner with Circle City Tickets. “Right now, tickets for the regional here aren’t moving at any price.”
Central Indiana ticket brokers took a double hit. Not only is IU being sent elsewhere, but Louisville is scheduled to play its first two games in this year’s tournament in nearby Lexington, Ky., which has softened the market for tickets to the Indianapolis regional.
“Louisville fans are focused on Lexington right now,” Peduto said. “They’re not even thinking about the games in Indianapolis. Whereas, the Indiana fans have been thinking about Indianapolis for months.”
Ticket brokers think the inclusion of IU here could have been a windfall for several reasons. Not only are there myriad IU alums and supporters living here, but there is pent-up demand from the Hoosier faithful, ticket brokers said.
“IU fans are starved to see them play locally in a big tournament game,” Peduto said. “It’s been a long, long time since IU had a real chance to make a deep tournament run, possibly win a regional.”
It could have been worse.
“Louisville and Michigan State still have sizable traveling fan bases,” Peduto said. “If they would have stuck a school like Gonzaga [University] here, demand would have gone through the floor. Not only is [Gonzaga] far away, but it’s a small school, and those types of schools simply don’t have the alumni base and fan support to drive demand like the large state schools.”
Other nearby schools could drive ticket demand, but they’d have to pull some serious upsets. Valparaiso University is also vying for a chance to play in Indianapolis, but with Michigan State as its first-round opponent, few are giving Valpo a chance to make the regional. The University of Cincinnati also has a shot, but it's a long one for the No. 10 seed.
Duke University, seeded second in the Midwest, with its national following, could help drive sales, ticket brokers said.
With tickets still remaining at the box office, tickets on the secondary market were barely moving above face value on Monday.
All-session tickets are available for $90, while single-session tickets begin at $50. The Indianapolis games feature two Sweet 16 games with the winners meeting in one Elite Eight game on Sunday. The winner of Sunday’s game advances to the 2013 NCAA Men’s Final Four in Atlanta.
All-session tickets on StubHub were selling Monday for just slightly above face value, starting at $94.50, with single-session tickets available for as low as $47.99, below face value.
“What you have now is a lot of IU people trying to sell their tickets,” Peduto said.
The regional games in Indianapolis are still expected to draw 31,000 to 33,000, said Indiana Sports Corp. spokesman John Dedman.
“We think the draw is going to be very good,” Dedman said. “When Michigan State and Louisville met here in the 2009 regional, that game drew 36,000.”
Right now, Dedman said, Lucas Oil Stadium is configured to seat a maximum of 33,000 for the 2013 regional games.
Overall, sports economists said, the omission of IU from the Indianapolis regional will likely cost the city $1.5 million or more in economic impact.
“IU has a rabid fan base and we expected a lot of them to come downtown, even some without tickets, to celebrate,” said Chris Gahl, spokesman for Visit Indy, the city's tourism arm. “That’s what we found when Butler made it to the Final Four here in 2010. It becomes a huge local festival of basketball, and that’s what we expected with IU."
The economic impact is still expected to be in the $15 million range, but sports economists said Indiana’s inclusion could have pushed visitor spending up as much as 10 percent.