The court for the NCAA Final Four tournament is put together at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral
Far from college basketball hot spots, Final Four ticket prices dipped when the Arizona Wildcats lost in the semifinals.
Tickets to the NCAA Final Four have been sold out for months, snapped up by dealers looking to make a resale profit, and fans hoping their team would reach the final weekend of the tournament.
Three-game passes, which combine both Saturday’s semifinals and Monday’s national championship game, have a face value of $200. But as the tournament went on, thousands of tickets changed hands online, and prices rose and fell like shares on the stock exchange.
Like all markets, this one is driven by supply and demand: Fans of losing teams flood the market to sell their tickets, and fans of winners pick them up.
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Teams, geography impact ticket sales
Prices online climbed as the University of Arizona Wildcats — one of the country’s best teams and an Arizona favorite — made their way through the first two rounds. Arizona lost in the third round of the tournament, and the ticket market dipped. When the lineup was finally locked in place, Phoenix’s Final Four had become one of the cheapest in years.
As of Sunday afternoon, three-game passes sold for an average of $871 online, according to data from online marketplace SeatGeek. The cheapest all-weekend ticket was available at $540. On another popular ticket site, StubHub, the same tickets had a median asking price of $700.
That’s more expensive than the average SeatGeek ticket price at last year’s Final Four in Houston, $803, but much cheaper than the 2015 championship in Indianapolis, when prices rose to $1,256.
Much of the reason for the lower prices is Phoenix’s location, thousands of miles away from most traditional college-basketball hotbeds.
“In many cases, the level of demand has to do with geography,” SeatGeek spokesman Nate Rattner said in an email.
“It’s a flipping session”
A quarter of all Final Four tickets sold on SeatGeek have been to Arizona residents.
None of the four remaining teams — Gonzaga, Oregon, South Carolina and North Carolina — have campuses within 1,200 miles of Phoenix, making it an expensive hassle for fans to see the games in-person. Every year, a flood of basketball fans causes spikes in airfares and hotel rooms in Final Four cities.
Most Final Four tickets are purchased months in advance. Corporate sponsors buy seats and suites in bulk. Blocks of tickets are reserved for students and fans of the four schools that make the tournament’s final weekend.
Fans of the country’s top teams order tickets as soon as they go on sale, just in case their school makes it. That leaves only a small chunk available of the 75,000 seats in University of Phoenix Stadium.
But as buzzers sound and teams fall off the bracket, some of those fans decide they don’t want to see a Final Four that doesn’t feature their school, and the market opens up again.
“It’s just a mass exodus,” said Cameron Papp, StubHub spokesman. “It’s a flipping session.”
The sudden demand typically drives down prices. After the teams were set for last year’s Final Four in Houston, the average ticket price dropped 25 percent.
A market madness
Through the tournament’s first week, prices were held up by the hopes of a local fan base. Arizona, whose campus is just 130 miles from University of Phoenix Stadium, had a No. 2 seed and a seemingly clear path to the Final Four.
But the Wildcats lost in the Sweet 16. In the days following the loss, the median asking price for Final Four tickets on SeatGeek dropped from $949 to $871.
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That left UCLA, a No. 3 seed whose Los Angeles campus is just a five-hour drive from Phoenix, as the nearest Final Four hopeful. Then the Bruins lost, too, and the market dipped even further.
Another flurry of sales will come in between the semifinal and championship rounds, as fans of losing teams sell their tickets to a championship game their school won’t play. Scalpers will set up outside the stadium, hoping to buy low and sell high.
Ticketing experts say it’s impossible to predict whether Saturday’s games will cause tickets prices to spike or plummet.
“The tournament’s unlike anything else, especially for ticketing purposes,” Papp said. “It’s just nonstop madness.”
It’s a market madness that should last through the week, even for basketball’s biggest spenders.
The price of the expensive full-strip ticket on either site, good for a 20-person suite with a private bathroom, dropped by 14 percent over the weekend.
It had an asking price of $132,000.