Kentucky teams drive surge in demand for Indy’s NCAA regional

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The end of Wichita State University's perfect season on Sunday turned out to be great news for Indianapolis tourism officials, hotels and ticket brokers.

When the University of Kentucky beat Wichita State by two points, 78-76, it set up a showdown pitting the Wildcats against the University of Louisville in the NCAA tournament round-of-16 regional game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday.

“From a tourism perspective, it’s nearly a perfect storm,” said Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl. “Not only is Kentucky and Louisville a huge rivalry, but the proximity of Indianapolis to both schools, we think, is going to have a tremendous impact. Then throw in Michigan, and we’re expecting a great weekend of basketball and a big economic impact.”

The other matchup in the Sweet Sixteen round at the Indianapolis regional will be University of Michigan against University of Tennessee. Visit Indy, said Gahl, has upped its estimate for visitor spending for the NCAA regional contests on Friday and Sunday from about $19 million to $20 million.

“It could actually be significantly higher than that,” Gahl said.

According to ticket brokers, Kentucky’s upset victory is having the biggest impact on this weekend.

“When Louisville won, we saw an uptick. When Kentucky won, it went crazy,” said Renny Harrison, principal of Carmel-based Fanfare Tickets.

Lucas Oil Stadium will be configured to seat about 35,000 for the three regional games, culminating in an Elite Eight matchup on Sunday. The court will be set off to one end of the football field, and part of the stadium will be curtained off.

Demand for tickets is so high for the Indianapolis regional that NCAA officials were working Monday morning with the Indiana Sports Corp. to make a few hundred more seats available. It’s not clear at this time how many seats will be added, said ISC spokesman John Dedman.

Although some ticket brokers believe Lucas Oil Stadium could sell out this weekend if it was configured as it is for the Final Four—with the court set in the middle of the football field—Dedman said that it isn’t being considered.

“It’s a little more complicated than just moving the court,” he said.

For a Final Four, Lucas Oil Stadium can seat about 71,000.

According to brokers, tickets for admittance to both sessions on Friday and Sunday were running between $125 for nosebleeds to just above $500 for lower-level tickets. Now that the matchups are clear, those same tickets are running between $225 to just more than $1,000.

Demand from fans of Kentucky and Louisville are running even, Harrison said, with Michigan a distant third. Tennessee is lagging in fourth, he added.

Ticket demand is at least 15 percent to 25 percent higher than it was at last year’s NCAA regional at Lucas Oil Stadium, Harrison said. Louisville also played in last year’s regional. The other three teams were Michigan State University, Duke University, and University of Oregon.

“Last year, we had good demand for the lower level, but not much demand for the upper level,” Harrison said. “This year, there is demand for the tickets anywhere. The lower and upper level are both selling really well.”

Tickets aren’t the only things in demand. Downtown hotel rooms are already sold out, according to Gahl, with suburban hotels filling fast. Downtown hotel rooms that sold on average for $140 in 2013 are selling this weekend for $230 to $350, according to Gahl.

“The schools playing are close, but they’re just the right distance where people like to come up and spend the night,” Dedman said.

There’s another factor driving hotel demand, Gahl said.

“Fans from Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan are all familiar with our city,” Gahl said. “We’ve marketed to them, and many of them have been here before either for a sporting event or on a vacation or trip. They’re familiar with us and our attractions, and that’s drawing them to want to spend a day or two here.”

Michigan will tip off at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, followed by Louisville vs. Kentucky 30 minutes after the first game concludes. On Thursday, the teams' practice sessions will be open to the public. Tennessee practices from noon to 12:50 p.m., Kentucky practices from 1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m., Michigan from 2:10 p.m. to 3 p.m., and Louisville from 3:10 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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