Big Ten tourney attendance rises by nearly 20 percent

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This year’s Big Ten men’s basketball tournament rebounded from disappointing attendance in 2009, assisted by stronger ticket-selling efforts and new promotions.

Attendance for the tournament that concluded Sunday totaled 81,625, a nearly 20-percent increase from last year’s mark and the highest since Indianapolis began hosting the event on an annual basis in 2008.

“The tournament was very popular this year,” Indiana Sports Corp. spokesman John Dedman said. “We are very excited about that.”

Conseco Fieldhouse will host the tournament through 2012. But it remains uncertain whether the suburban Chicago-based Big Ten will keep the men’s and women’s tournaments in Indianapolis after that.

The Big Ten is planning to put the tournaments up for bid and have additional cities compete against Indianapolis for the right to host the games.

The Indiana Sports Corp., which led the charge to attract both tournaments to Indianapolis annually starting in 2008, is unsure when the bid process will begin.

What is certain, however, is that ticket sales will play a critical role in whether the tournaments stay in Indianapolis beyond 2012.

Dedman said a stronger effort to sell tickets involved additional promotions to season ticketholders at each university, and a new program that offered discounted tickets to students that could be purchased at each campus. Previously, students had to buy tickets at the normal rate through outlets available to the general public.

The Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association estimates the men’s tournament generates about $8 million in direct visitor spending. Combined with the women’s Big Ten Tournament games, which take place the week before the men's tourney, the figure grows to $10 million.

Indianapolis began hosting both tournaments annually in 2008, but the city’s relationship with the Big Ten begins well before that.  

With the exception of one year, the women’s tournament has been in Indianapolis since 1994 and in Conseco Fieldhouse since 1999. The men’s tournament, which began in 1998, was played in Chicago’s United Center through 2001, then alternated between Chicago and Indianapolis from 2002 to 2007.

In 2002, the first year the men’s tournament was in Indianapolis, attendance totaled 94,402. It’s never been that high since. Attendance declined to 77,012 in 2004, before rebounding to 90,763 in 2006.

This year, the Indiana Hoosiers were beaten in the first round by the Northwestern Wildcats. The Purdue Boilermakers defeated the Wildcats before being bounced by the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The Golden Gophers unexpectedly advanced to the championship, where they were drubbed by the Ohio State Buckeyes, 91-60.

In the NCAA tournament, which begins this week, the Boilermakers, a No. 4 seed, play the No. 13-seeded Siena Saints at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

The Butler Bulldogs and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are the other Indiana teams to advance to the NCAA tournament.

The Bulldogs, a No. 5 seed, play the No. 12-seeded University of Texas-El Paso Miners at 5 p.m. Thursday. The No. 6 Fighting Irish and No. 11 Old Dominion Monarchs face off at 12:25 p.m. Thursday.

College basketball, however, will return to Indianapolis soon enough. The city hosts the NCAA Final Four on April 3-5.


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