As Big Ten tourney grows, bidding war for event could erupt

March 5, 2014
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Just about every Big Ten men’s basketball team has struggled at one time or another this year. But as a whole—and financially speaking—the college conference has never been better.

This is the highest attendance total for the Big Ten men's tournament in the nine years that it’s been held in Indianapolis. On Feb. 24, almost three weeks before the tournament's tipoff in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Big Ten officials announced more than 109,000 tickets have been sold. That tops the previous high—in 2012—of 107,737. And it's the earliest in advance the tournament has been sold out.

This year’s tournament attendance spike comes during a season when hometown favorites IU and Purdue have been below par. IU and Purdue have traditionally been attendance drivers in year’s past when the tournament was held locally.

When IU was 1-17 (in the Big Ten) during the 2008-09 season, tournament attendance was a paltry 68,098. The economy also was in the toilet that year. Attendance at the 2004 Big Ten men’s hoops tournament was 77,012 when IU was suffering from Mike Davis fatigue. When IU was hot late in the 2001-02 season, attendance at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis that season surged. It also helped that was the first year the event was held here.

Attendance got a big boost in 2012 when Nebraska joined the conference and another session was added to the tournament. But something else appears to be going on. Last year in Chicago was the first time the tournament sold out in the Windy City.

Rick Boyages, Big Ten associate commissioner for men’s basketball, credits the increased ticket demand to improved television deals the conference has with CBS and ESPN along with the growth of the Big Ten Network, which has given the conference unprecedented exposure.

Boyages also thinks parity within the conference this year has a lot of fans thinking their teams could do well in the tournament.

Either way, it’s good news for Visit Indy and other local hotels, restaurants and other downtown businesses. Visit Indy expects the tournament to pump about $12.4 million in visitor spending into the local economy. The impact has grown more than 25 percent since the tournament first came here in 2002. That influx of cash isn’t likely to diminish in coming years--for whoever is the host city.

The addition of two more teams—Maryland and Rutgers—into the conference next year is only going to push demand for the tournament higher. That’s good news for ticket brokers.

Boyages said for now there's no thought to moving the tournament to bigger venues such as Lucas Oil Stadium. But you can bet Big Ten officials, ever eager to take advantage of an economic opportunity, will keep a close eye on ticket demand.

The growth of the event is also good news for Indianapolis hotels in the years the tournament is here. Fans coming all the way from the East Coast are almost certain to stay a night or two in a hotel.

The growth of the conference also means the tournament is less vulnerable to significant attendance dips when the economy, or hometown favorites such as IU and Purdue, falter.

If there's a downside to the tournament's growth for Indianapolis it's that bidding for the event will get a lot more competitive. It will be a lot tougher for Indy and Chicago to maintain their exclusive grip on the event.

You can bet with new teams joining the conference, new cities, especially those on the East Coast will become interested in hosting this increasingly lucrative tournament. Luckily for Indianapolis, in addition to this year, it already has the event secured for 2016.

Chicago's United Center will host the event in 2015. But after 2016, I wouldn't be surprised to see a bidding war for the tournament erupt.

Below are the years the Big Ten men's basketball tournament have been played in Indianapolis and the total tournament attendance those years.

2002: 94,402

2004: 77,012

2006: 90,763

2008: 80,012

2009: 68,098

2010: 81,625

2011: 86,767

2012: 107,737

2014: 109,000+

  • Simple Chart
    Can you produce a chart comparing IU and Purdue's winning percentage with total attendance at Big Ten Tournament's held in Indianapolis? Or even take a little time and add all 11 (12) team's and produce an Indy and Chicago chart? I suspect the correlation between IU's percentage and total attendance in Indy will be astoundingly confirmed and infinitely closer than any team/venue.
  • Lucas Oil Stadium
    if theres a bidding war could they use Lucas Oil Stadium so they can accomadate any crowd size?
  • Pointless
    This article is missing the natural conclusion of listing the cities that would want to compete for the tourney. Allow me. New York: MSG is already the long time home of Big East Tourney. not going there. The Barclays Center in Brooklyn is host to the the A-10 tourney. not going there New Jersey: Izod Center(meadowlands) and Prudentail Center(Newwark) would love the tourney i would guess. Little chance the B10 would want the tourney in a hockey arena or concert hall a 1000 miles from most of the fan bases and in the shadow of the Big East tourney going on at MSG at the same time Boston: way to far away and not a college sports town. Philly: A Big East and Big 5 town. has a NBA arena. closet two teams are Rutgers and PSU. Rutgers will be the worst team in the league and has no history. PSU is a bottom 4 team and has no history. Still a long way away and still not New York. Pitt: no NBA arena, could play at Consol Energy Center(where Penguins and Pitt plays). A Big East, now ACC town. Not east coast cool and not midwest convenient. No chance the B10 is played on a ACC homecourt Baltimore: No play to play D.C. first doable site. Verizon Center is nice. is a Big East town. not close to any other major tourney site. Still a long way away. Only Maryland is close. Slight chance. Columbus Ohio: Wont by played at value center(OSU homecourt) Could be played at Nationwide Arean(hockey arena). East of all but 3 schools. Doubt the B10 would play the tourney is a city that has a B10 campus. Cincy/Lousiville No place to play Cleveland: Has a NBA arena(Quicken Loans) In B10 country. Still fairly far east. City/Gilbert(MSU alum) might pay big for tourney. Mistake on the lake jokes write themselves. slight chance Detroit: Could play at the Palace. B10 town. would love to host the tourney. lack o bars and hotels near site a problem. City is bankrupt. very slight chance. better chance the football championship goes there. Milwaukee: could play at Bradley Center. Outdate arena. Too close to chicago to not just play the tourney in chicago. very slight chances. Minneapolis: Could play at Target Center. way too far away for most fans. easy city to fly to though. fun town. slight chance. St. Louis: already host to missouri valley tourney. Kansas City: already host to Big 12 tourney. That leaves two cities. Indy and Chicago. I would bet that Indy and Chicago continue the rotation as already set up. Two most natural host cities. Both have their pluses. Chicago has the most B10 alumni, best city in midwest, good arena, easy drive and easy fly for most fans. Indy has the best location for driving. best gym(Bankers Life) and the ability to switch to an indoor football setting if ticket demand requires it, most experience at hosting these style events in the midwest. As the youngest of the major tourneys, I think the B10 should continue to establish a tradition in Indy and Chicago instead chasing dollars in far off places. Most of the money comes from ESPN and CBS anyway. They want good games and full gyms. Hard to have full gyms when you move the games far away from the fan bases. I do recognize that the B10/Delany will leverage the chance that the B10 adds more cities to the rotation for a better deal from Indy and Chicago. Thats life.
    • Moving it would be crazy!
      They've worked for years and years to build up the momentum of the Big Ten tourney in Indy and Chicago. Finally, they have gotten it to a place where it is now selling out in advance in both cities. Both cities are the best logistical options for the conference in terms of proximity to the majority of campuses and fans, etc. Moving it now would be nuts and you'd risk losing all the momentum that has been built in Chicago and Indy. As one of the earlier posts illustrates, it's tough to make a case that there are really any better locations out there. The tournament absolutely needs to stay somewhere in the heart of the Big Ten fanbase region. Do you really think that the ACC or Big East would consider playing their tourney in Indy or Chicago far away from almost all of their fans? The Big Ten tourney only makes sense in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, or Ohio. Any other state moves you too far away from most schools. I don't really see a venue/city situation in Ohio or Michigan that makes any better sense that what they've already got. There is nothing near the Palace in suburban Detroit. It would have nothing on Chicago or Indy. Cleveland is pushing it for distance from most campuses. Cincy is a really old arena that would be a step down. Columbus is really the only viable combination of city and arena that could be a serious competitor but I think the presence of Ohio State there probably makes that a long shot. Plus, it's not as centrally located to Big Ten schools and the schools to the east (Rutgers, Penn State, and Maryland) are not going to bring nearly as many fans even if you move it a few hours closer to them. Penn State and Rutgers could have the tourney in their backyard and wouldn't draw people. Maryland is the exception but I don't think you are going to inconvenience every other school for just one. They joined the Big Ten knowing the conference championships would be in the midwest so let them live with that. If they are focused on more money the best option is to try to grow the event into Lucas Oil Stadium.
      • B1G Tourney
        Ford Field in Downtown Detroit would be a great location as well. I am fine with most years the tournament being in Chicago or Indy but would not mind seeing it in Detroit or Cleveland either.
      • Detroit
        "Detroit: Could play at the Palace. B10 town. would love to host the tourney. lack o bars and hotels near site a problem. City is bankrupt." I agree with your post, but do want to point out that the Palace is not in Detroit. The Palace is in Auburn Hills, located in Oakland County, which is one of the richest US counties with a population over a million. Doesn't really compare to the commonly perceived image of downtown Detroit.

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