An upset-filled NCAA Tournament in which there isn’t a no. 1 or no. 2 seed left has created the most unique NCAA Final Four ever, as well as a dream one for fans of mid-majors (not to mention the two people, out of the 5.9 million who filled out a bracket at ESPN.com, who have all four Final Four teams).
But mass chaos hasn’t been great business for ticket brokers.
According to figures provided by StubHub.com, the average ticket price to one of the national semifinal games at 71,500-seat Reliant Stadium in Houston Saturday, April 2 — the Cinderella schools, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, will play in the early game followed by Kentucky against Connecticut in the nightcap — is $350, well below last year’s figure of $460 and far less than the 2009 price tag of $661.
And, on ticket search engine FanSnap, nearly 3,000 tickets were listed on major broker sites for the semi-final games with prices starting in the $80 range, which is about half of face value.
The explanation is simple: The blue bloods bring in all the green.
Last year’s Final Four featured eventual champion Duke, frequent Final Four participant Michigan State, powerhouse West Virginia (which was making its first trip to the national semifinals in 51 years) and upstart Butler. Two years ago, there wasn’t a Cinderella to be found in a field loaded with champion North Carolina, runner-up Michigan State and Big East giants Connecticut (which has made four trips to the Final Four in a dozen year) and Villanova (which reached the Final Four for the first time in 24 years).
“You’re not getting the same fan base coming out of the four schools,” Zach Anderson of Texas-based TicketCity told TicketNews. “I would say we have seen a dip from last year. The other schools aren’t bringing the same numbers that you may typically get.”
While VCU and Butler are authoring incredible stories — VCU was one of the last teams in the field and had to win five games to get to the Final Four while Butler’s second straight Final Four trip is even more remarkable than its first — the schools lack the alumni power and national recognition of Kentucky, which is the winningest program in Division I history, and Connecticut, which has won two national titles since 1999. Butler has a student body of less than 4,000 while VCU has more than 32,000 students, 86 percent of whom are from Virginia.
“I think in this business, demand drives prices, and the fact of the matter is while I think VCU and Butler are great schools, they’re not going to bring as many people to a game as a Kansas, they’re not going to bring [as many fans as] home state teams,” Anderson said. “There’s a marked difference in terms of what they’re going to bring compared to Wisconsin and North Carolina and Kansas and Texas.”
Also impacting business is the guarantee that the title game will pit a mid-major against someone from a power six conference. Had the matchups worked out differently, the title game could have either been a clash of the titans in Kentucky and Connecticut or an unprecedented battle of mid-majors, either one of which would have raised demand for tickets to the entire weekend.
“A UConn-Kentucky final or a Butler-VCU final really kind of enhances this story a little bit,” Anderson said. “Play it out with one of the blue bloods has to go home and one of the Cinderellas has to go home.”
Despite the lower demand thus far, Anderson is confident the Final Four will be far from a bust for resellers. The Cinderella stories are a natural hook for walk-up business, and those deciding to go on the spur of the moment will find there are plenty of tickets to be had. The Final Four environment is also much less sterile and corporate than the Super Bowl.
“I think that the Cinderella teams is a great story, there’s no doubt that it adds an element that you don’t get in the BCS — I think a lot of people are interested in that,” Anderson said. “The one thing I have heard constantly from people is the same thing: If you’ve been to the Final Four, you know it’s one of the best venues out there because it’s just a different atmosphere. Comparing the Final Four to the Super Bowl, in terms of the noise in the stadium, the Final Four blows it away. The crowd is phenomenal.”