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The NCAA men’s basketball tournament second- and third-round games at Tulsa’s BOK Center drew a total of 42,823 fans and “took two of the top 10 spots among the arena’s most attended single-events,” according to Matt Baker of TULSA WORLD. Sunday’s third-round games, which featured Arizona-Texas and Kansas-Illinois, drew an announced crowd of 15,839, making it the “sixth-most attended event since the arena opened in August 2008.” Friday’s late session “drew 14,353 spectators -- ninth-best in arena history” (TULSA WORLD, 3/21). This was the first time in 26 years Tulsa had hosted NCAA Tournament games, and in Tulsa, Dave Sittler wrote, “We don’t know when our town will again host March Madness. But Tulsans proved they could run a big-time event to match their first-class arena. … Hopefully, we won’t have to sit out too many Big Dances before the NCAA asks us if we’re willing to open our doors wide to host another portion of its premier event” (TULSA WORLD, 3/21). However, the WORLD's Baker today notes Tulsa "ranked seventh in attendance among the eight sites that hosted second- and third-round games," behind only Tucson's McHale Center. The BOK Center "filled 80 percent of the 17,839 seats" for the six games, with only Tucson and Tampa having a "greater percentage of empty seats." Tulsa Metro Chamber President & CEO Michael Neal: "We're going to have to sell more tickets next time" (TULSA WORLD, 3/22).
BOOST FROM TOBACCO ROAD: In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg reported attendance for Sunday’s tournament games at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena “picked up” compared to Friday’s sessions, as 18,329 fans watched North Carolina-Washington and Duke-Michigan. UNC Charlotte AD Judy Rose, whose school served as host of the games, said that she was “encouraged by the crowds for Sunday’s games … after being disappointed by advance ticket sales.” She said NCAA reps at the games “gave glowing reviews.” Rose “expects to bid on landing future tournaments this summer” (BIZJOURNALS.com, 3/21). Also in Charlotte, Scott Fowler noted there were “about 1,500 more tickets sold for Sunday’s session compared to Friday’s,” when 16,852 fans attended the late session. However, it is a “stunner the whole weekend wasn’t a complete sellout with both North Carolina and Duke in the house” (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 3/20).
STRONG WALK-UPS IN TAMPA: Tampa Bay Sports Commissioner Exec Dir Rob Higgins said that a “strong walkup crowd bolstered attendance after the pace of ticket sales began to quicken on Friday” for games played at the St. Pete Times Forum. Saturday’s games, which featured Kentucky-West Virginia and Florida-UCLA, drew 17,771 fans, up from 14,835 and 15,504 for the two sessions Thursday. Higgins said that “determining the event’s success involves considering feedback from the NCAA, fans and teams.” However, he added that there is “reason to think Tampa could be in the running the next time the NCAA opens bidding on sites” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/20).
LOCAL DRAWING POWER: In DC, Stephen Whyno noted Verizon Center drew 18,684 fans for Saturday night’s games, which featured Butler-Pittsburgh and UConn-Cincinnati, and 17,706 for Thursday’s games. The arena “had the benefit of hosting four teams within driving distance plus some rabid fan bases” in Butler and UConn (WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/21).
SECOND ROUNDTHIRD ROUND
SITESESSION 1SESSION 2SESSION 1TOTAL Quicken Loans Arena20,17420,16420,16460,502 Pepsi Center18,49919,21619,32857,043 Verizon Center17,57817,70618,68453,968 United Center17,35217,36918,14652,867 Time Warner Cable Arena16,82916,85218,32952,010 St. Pete Times Forum14,83515,50417,77148,110 BOK Center12,63114,35315,83942,823 McKale Center10,10110,29311,26731,661
COULD TELEVISION ERODE CROWDS? In Oklahoma City, Jenni Carlson wrote the NCAA “is daring folks to stay home” and not attend tournament games, with “every game being broadcast in its entirety for the first time.” There were some “atrocious attendance figures” during Thursday and Friday sessions, and going to games “has never been more of a sacrifice, both in terms of money and hassle, than it is now” (DAILY OKLAHOMAN, 3/19). In Charlotte, Tom Sorenson wrote fans "refused to fill" Time Warner Cable Arena despite the presence of local teams North Carolina and Duke. Sorenson: "Maybe fans ... have finally decided that it's easier to stay home and watch on TV. Maybe the phrase, 'There is no next best thing to being there' no longer applies" (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 3/21).
AT LEAST ONE REGIONAL ALREADY SEEING SLOW SALES: In San Antonio, John Whisler reports the Southwest Regional at the Alamodome is featuring No. 1 seed Kansas and three double-digits seeds -- Florida State, VCU and Richmond -- and the "lower-profile field appears to be having an effect" on ticket sales. StubHub.com "was offering some tickets at more than 50 percent below face value -- $70 seats for $31 -- five days before the opening tip-off." San Antonio-based Best Tickets Owner Jerome Cohen "described the market as 'weak, very weak' for the Southwest Regional." Cohen: "They might be playing to half-empty stadiums." However, Univ. of Texas-San Antonio AD Lynn Hickey, whose school is serving as the host, was "optimistic the Friday and Sunday sessions would sell out." The Alamodome will be configured to seat 30,000 (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 3/22).
The Big Ten "plans to create a men's hockey league starting in 2013-14, a move that will drastically change the landscape of the sport at the college level," according to George Sipple of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. The proposal, which has been recommended by ADs for schools with hockey programs, "will be sent to the Big Ten Council of Presidents for approval in June." The Big Ten hockey league would have six teams: Central Collegiate Hockey Association members Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State; Western Collegiate Hockey Association members Minnesota and Wisconsin; and Penn State, "which starts its program in 2012." There would be a 20-game conference schedule, and a "postseason tournament would determine the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament." The move is the "first of what will be a series of changes the next two years in college hockey, as the remaining members of the CCHA and WCHA decide how to move forward without five of their strongest members" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/22). In St. Paul, John Shipley reports the decision was "considered inevitable as soon as Penn State," spurred by an $88M donation from Sabres Owner Terry Pegula, "announced in September it would add men's and women's hockey." Minnesota coach Don Lucia: "Had Penn State not added hockey, we would have been very content where we are." Big Ten Associate Commissioner for Governance Jennifer Heppel said that "details beyond the 20-game conference schedule ... are still to be discussed, such as where the conference tournament will be or how the Big Ten Network will affect scheduling" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 3/22). College Hockey Inc. Exec Dir Paul Kelly "called the Big Ten hockey conference, on its own merits, a step forward for the sport." Kelly: "When a prestigious institution like Penn State and other large schools combine to form a conference, it will get a lot of media attention, better TV exposure, and all of that is a positive for the sport. It likely will prompt other Big Ten schools to look at (hockey) like Indiana, Illinois and Northwestern" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/22).
WHAT'S NEXT FOR OTHER LEAGUES? CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos said the Big Ten hockey league "doesn't come as a surprise," as it has been "evolving for quite a while." When asked if he thought the CCHA would fold, Anastos said, "No, I don't. There's so many different ways to look at membership. It's really hard to speculate since membership is a fairly complex issue. We've been engaged in a lot of dialogue and there are all kinds of different models being discussed, but it's too premature to see what it's going to look like. It could be as simple as the WCHA just going down to 10 teams and the CCHA going down to 8. Each league would still get an instant qualifier (for the NCAA Tournament)" (DETROIT NEWS, 3/22).