Shortage of big programs slows secondary Final Four ticket sales

The NCAA Final Four men's basketball tournament April 3-5 in Indianapolis is already a sellout. But it's taking longer than usual to rid the secondary market of available seats, according to ticket brokers.

As of Tuesday afternoon, thousands of tickets were still available for the two games on Saturday and the championship game on Monday, according to national broker databases.

While the Duke University and Michigan State University have big basketball fan bases, Butler University and West Virginia aren't traditional powers. And early-round upsets of big-time programs Kansas University and the University of Kentucky, both No. 1 seeds, put a flood of tickets back on the market.

So, despite the Butler Bulldogs’ improbable run to the Final Four as a No. 5 seed, and the inspiring storylines generated by their appearance at hometown Lucas Oil Stadium, it’s not translating into brisk ticket sales.

“We’ve seen a lot better Final Fours,” lamented Dave Brusslan, president of Indianapolis-based based Preferred Tickets & Tours Inc. “Nationwide demand is way down.”

Brusslan said a total of about 2,500 tickets remain for Saturday’s two-game session and another 2,500 for the championship game on Monday.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based FanSnap, a national ticket search engine, pegged the number at closer to 10,000—3,000 for Saturday’s games and 7,000 for the championship.

“With all the upsets, it’s turned the tournament upside down,” FanSnap spokesman Christian Anderson said. “Fans who bought tickets ahead of time are not coming now, so there’s a lot more tickets coming in.”

Indeed, the Butler Bulldogs upset the top-seeded Syracuse Orangemen and the No. 2-seeded Kansas State Wildcats in the West region. The top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the Midwest were upended by the No. 9-seeded Northern Iowa Panthers, paving the way for the No. 5-seeded Michigan State Spartans to tip off against Butler on Saturday.

The No. 2-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers defeated the East region’s top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, giving them a shot at the Duke Blue Devils of the South region. Duke is the Final Four’s lone No. 1 seed.

Ticket brokers attribute the soft ticket sales, in particular, to the Kentucky and Kansas losses.

“We saw a lot of selling after they were knocked out,” Anderson said.

The result: Better deals are likely for basketball fans contemplating a trip to Indianapolis. Prices are a “bit lower” than in past years, Anderson said.

Still, a lower-level semifinal ticket at either end of the court is running between $658 and $2,077, while a lower-level mid-court ticket will cost between $1,800 to $8,800. Upper-level tickets can be found as low as $220 and as high as $3,299.

Not surprising, the most interest for tickets, based on search numbers, is coming from Indiana, West Virginia and Michigan, Anderson said.

Sports economists fear an influx of fans attending the Final Four from the Hoosier state, or the host city, will dampen spending on hotels and restaurants. City officials estimate visitor spending could reach $50 million, although economists are skeptical of the figure.

They contend direct visitor spending will decline anywhere from 10 percent to 25 percent, which translates to a loss of $5 million to $12.5 million, due to Butler’s appearance in the tournament.

Hoteliers, however, are feeling more confident about their prospects as the Final Four approaches. The Crowne Plaza downtown, one of four hotels designated by the NCAA to host a team’s fans, drew the winner of the West region—Butler.

About 215 of the roughly 270 rooms are reserved four nights, from Thursday through Monday, for Butler fans. The NCAA notified the Crowne Plaza on Tuesday that all of the rooms have been booked, alleviating the fears of Glenn Brooks, vice president of sales and marketing for Indianapolis-based General Hotels Corp., which owns the hotel.

“I was the initial worrywart,” he said, “but it’s all doing absolutely fine.”

Even hoteliers outside of downtown are optimistic about their chances to bolster their revenues. For instance, each of the 122 rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn on the northwest side is booked, said Michael Conner, regional general manager for Hilton and chairman of the Indiana Hotel & Lodging Association.

“I know I’ve been hearing, ‘you won’t be getting a lot of impact because Butler is playing,’ but it’s just the opposite,” Conner said. “We’ve had Butler alumni call, fans from Michigan State, West Virginia and Duke.”

The debate about whether Butler’s appearance in the Final Four will reflect negatively on Indianapolis’ economy is wearing thin on university spokesman Marc Allan.

Butler boasts 43,000 active alumni, 25,000 of whom reside outside of Indiana, Allan said, while maintaining the university’s graduates will support local establishments just as much as other fans.

“To suggest that 25 percent of the revenue somehow goes away just because there is a local team in the tournament is absurd,” he said. “They’re going to come here; they’re going to eat downtown; they’re going to stay downtown.”

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