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Record visitor spending expected for Final Four

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Several preliminary sites for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament fell short of sellouts, and some tickets still remain unsold for the four regional rounds that get under way this week. But that’s not the case for the Final Four to be played in Indianapolis April 3 and 5.

“The tickets are all spoken for,” said Indiana Sports Corp. spokesman John Dedman. “There will be no walk-up ticket sales. That's been the case for quite a while.”

Overall, NCAA officials said they are pleased with tournament ticket sales this year.

The West Regional in Salt Lake City—where Butler University plays—is sold out. Ticket sales also are healthy in the Syracuse and St. Louis regionals. Officials at the Houston regional—where Purdue plays—report that more than 85 percent of the tickets at the 71,000-seat Reliant Stadium have been sold.

A sold-out 2010 Final Four, the NCAA's marquee hoops event, means a record economic impact for Indianapolis.

This is the sixth time the Final Four will be played in Indianapolis, but the first year the games will be played in Lucas Oil Stadium. Since the 70,000-seat stadium holds 24,000 more people than the RCA Dome did for basketball, the financial impact for Indianapolis will rise dramatically.

In 2006, the last time a Final Four took place locally, officials for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association estimated that visitors to the city spent $39.3 million. Economists think that spending could swell to $50 million this year.

Unless Butler and/or Purdue crashes the party.

Legions of hometown fans will be rooting for Butler and Purdue to make a run to the Final Four, but that wouldn’t be the best thing for the local economy. If both teams make it, sports business experts estimate it could lead to a 10-percent  to 20-percent decline in visitor spending for this year's event.

“When a local team makes the event, that means less visitor spending on things like hotels, food and drink, airline tickets, rental cars and cab fares,” said Richard Sheehan, a University of Notre Dame economist and author of “Keeping Score: The Economics of Big-Time Sports.” “The impact of just one local team at an event like this can be pretty significant.”

Ticket revenue alone will bring in about $12 million for the event, about $5 million more than the last Final Four here.

NCAA officials were confident that ticket sales would be strong here, but given the economy and the larger venue, they weren’t sure until tickets hit the market. Greg Shaheen, NCAA senior vice president of basketball and business strategies, said demand for tickets to this year’s Final Four has been strong from the start.

NCAA officials credit the continued growth of the event and the allure of watching games in Lucas Oil Stadium as reason for the strong early sales. Lucas Oil Stadium is the only venue of its size in the U.S. built with basketball in mind, and was constructed with input from the NCAA.

Sports marketers aren’t surprised that the Final Four continues to flourish in Indianapolis.

“I think that speaks to the strength of this sports property,” said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis. “It’s arguably the strongest three-week sporting event in the country. In this kind of economy, to have that kind of demand speaks to the strength of the event.”

This year marks the first year in an agreement that lasts until 2039 that will assure the men’s and women’s Final Four comes to Indianapolis on a five-year rotation.

Thirty percent of the tickets for this year’s Final Four were snapped up quickly last spring in the NCAA’s annual ticket sales lottery open to the public.

Twenty-five percent of the tickets are allotted to the participating schools, including discounted courtside student seats. In the last decade, NCAA officials said, demand has always outstripped supply for participating schools.

The host city is allotted 10 percent of the tickets, with another 10 percent going to various NCAA committees and special requests. Five percent goes to the NCAA’s broadcast and marketing partners and sponsors, with another 5 percent being used by the NCAA’s hospitality program.

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