Yesterday afternoon, I got an email from TicketIQ, one of those ticket price aggregators. The email discussed Big Ten Tournament ticket prices and the trends year over year. The first point in the email I found surprising: That the average asking ticket price throughout the tournament was $128, which is higher than it was during the Indy years of the BTT but lower than the Chicago years.
But this can be a misleading stat: average here most likely refers to the mean ticket price, meaning that there are few tickets that might be driving up this average. Median ticket price - which the email doesn’t disclose - might be a better indication of the true interest of the tournament to fans in the DC area.
However, there was a second point from the email that I found even more interesting: “Thursday's Day Session including Michigan, Michigan St, and Illinois) starts at just $2 per ticket.”
Let’s repeat that for good measure. Two dollars.
Yes, I know, these are a second-round Thursday afternoon tournament games, but basically the Big Ten is trying to give away tickets to its marquee basketball event of the year. Even Jim Delany had to admit to the Washington Post that this weekend’s tournament won’t likely be a sellout and that holding the tournament in DC is part of a grander experiment.
The later sessions don’t get much better - according to Stubhub, you can get into the Verizon Center doors to watch Indiana play tomorrow night for as little as $11, and top-seeded Purdue’s quarterfinal game has tickets for as low as $17. Even the final game - which is often a blah 3 p.m. Sunday affair that happens too late to have any effect on NCAA Tournament seeding - has tickets for less that $40 online right now.
The one saving grace, of course, are Maryland fans. The Terps have already sold out their ticket allotment, and the lowest price to get in for their Friday night quarterfinal matchup is $67, indicating that there might be some demand to see Maryland’s games. Thus, the Big Ten lucked out when the Terps got a 3-seed in the Tourney, giving them a marquee Friday night matchup. Considering the Verizon Center is a straight shot on the green line of the Metro from Maryland’s campus in College Park, expect a home crowd atmosphere for the Terps’ games.
The real question is whether these crowds will keep up for non-Maryland games. Right now Saturday’s semifinal games are going for high prices on the resale market, with the lowest ticket on Stubhub being $69 (nice). But if the Terps lose to, say, Northwestern on Friday night - those prices may drop rapidly.
And this is where the dilemma of holding the tourney on the East Coast comes into play. If Maryland doesn’t make a run, the B1G could see a lot of empty seats over the weekend. Things could get even worse next year, when the Tournament heads to Madison Square Garden. The closest team to there, of course, is our good friend Rutger, who has finished in 14th in all three seasons of conference play. Not to mention that the 2018 Tourney will be held a week earlier next year, as to not conflict with the Big East’s long-standing tourney in MSG.
But I don’t blame fans for not showing up either. If you’re a fan with expendable income who wants to travel to see your favorite college hoops team play, you’re probably not going to drop several hundred bucks to go to the BTT if it’s a long flight from home. This is especially true if your team is good and you could be saving that money to take a trip to go and see them play somewhere in the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, if your team sucks, do you really want to make the trip across the country just to see some bad basketball? Thus it’s a lose-lose situation for the conference, and for the fans.
In a city like Chicago or Indy, you could justify a shorter trip to go see your team play in the tourney, even if they weren’t worth watching that season. In DC or New York, unless you’re the local market teams, this just isn’t an option. So Jim Delany and company better be rooting for Maryland this weekend. Otherwise the optics won’t be good for a conference that already has struggled to command a national spotlight this season.