by TicketNews Staff
After nearly a decade of declining attendance at its marquee event, a stronger secondary market for the NCAA championship weekend may indicate the beginning of a rebound for the sport of lacrosse.
Sales for the NCAA tournament’s final weekend at Gillette Stadium — which kicks off with Friday’s NCAA Division I women’s semifinals — are up 32% over 2016 and a whopping 89% over 2015 in the TicketNetwork marketplace. Given that those numbers reflect sales only through Wednesday afternoon, it’s possible that secondary market sales will double their low-water mark from two years ago, which saw just 72,897 attend the final four at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, the lowest total since the NCAA moved the weekend-long slate of games into NFL stadiums back in 2003.
“If the increased demand for tickets in our marketplace is any indication, it could be a good weekend in Foxboro,” says TicketNews editor Sean Burns, who covered ten championship weekends while working as a journalist in Baltimore. “Attendance can be dependent on so many things like weather, and what teams make it, but more activity on the secondary market could be a great sign that the downward trend we’ve seen in recent years may be over with.”
In the latter half of the 2010s, lacrosse was on a remarkably upward trend across the board. Participation at all levels was growing by leaps and bounds. ESPN, looking to feed its new college-centered ESPNU platform, was broadcasting more and more contests throughout the season, and media outlets outside of the sports’ core demographics were starting to take notice. Attendance at championship weekend was an easy bellwether for the upward trend. In 2004, more than 100,000 people passed through the turnstiles in Baltimore, the first time the sport reached triple digits. After two strong years in Philadelphia, the 2007 weekend saw a record 123,225 come over the transom, with the following year setting a record with an NCAA semifinals crowd of 52,004 at Gillete Stadium.
The economic downturn, however, seemed to hit the sport hard.
In 2009 in Foxboro and 2010 in Baltimore, attendance hovered just over the 100,000 mark on the weekend. In 2011, numbers were back under the triple-digit mark. Then the bottom fell out in 2012, with just 79,595 making the trek to Foxboro, with the number sagging further in 2013, ’14 and ’15 before jumping back to 82,901 for last year’s weekend in Philadelphia.
The TicketNetwork marketplace, which facilitates resale of seats across hundreds of websites, including TicketNetwork.com, has been stronger for the sport across the board thus far in 2017 than in recent years. Sales volume for the calendar year has already surpassed the total number of tickets purchased through the marketplace in both 2015 and ’16, and is on pace to move past 2014 as well. Average price per ticket is also up, reaching $75.41 across all variations of the sport (brokers sell National Lacrosse League and Major League Lacrosse tickets through the market as well as NCAA tickets), and just over $90 for the NCAA tournament offerings. Those numbers are up from $58 and $64 a year ago, respectively.
“Across the board, numbers are up in our marketplace,” Burns says. “That means brokers are getting back into the game, and fans are finding the seats that they want and willing to make the investment, which all point to things heading back in the right direction for the sport, attendance wise, now that the economy is starting to pick back up.”
Division I men’s lacrosse has long been the engine of fan engagement in the sport of lacrosse, with the semifinals and finals taking place on Saturday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend, respectively. This year’s final four features a Denver team which took home an historic championship in 2015, the first time a school off the eastern seaboard captured the crown. They take on top seed Maryland, which hasn’t won a title since 1975 despite making it to the finals nine times in the ensuing years. The semifinal will be a rematch of that 2015 championship game, which the Pioneers won by a 10-5 score. The other semifinal features Ohio State in its first final four, taking on Towson University, which hasn’t seen championship weekend since losing to North Carolina in the 1991 final.
On the women’s side, a trio of upstarts join perennial championship favorite Maryland, with the top seed Terrapins taking on No. 4 seed Penn State, which captured a pair of NCAA titles in the late 1980s, in the first of Friday’s semifinals. The other semifinal features Navy, which upset Penn, UMass and defending champion North Carolina on its way to a first-ever semifinal bid, taking on Boston College, which is also playing in its first semifinal. The winners will battle for the NCAA crown on Sunday at 11AM.
Sunday will also feature the finals of the Division II and Division III men’s tournaments. Limestone advanced to its fourth consecutive NCAA title game and will take on Merrimack, from North Andover, Mass., in the DII final at 2 p.m. Three hours later, top seed and defending NCAA champion Salisbury takes on No. 2 RIT for the Division III title. The Tigers have never won an NCAA championship, while the Sea Gulls have 11 crowns in their storied history.
Will the mixture of storied historic programs and fresh faces with engaged and loyal fan bases make for a booming championship weekend halfway between Boston and Providence? We won’t know until Monday at halftime of the NCAA men’s DI championship game when final attendance figures are tallied. But if the secondary market is any indication, things could be looking up once more.