There are eight cities hosting March Madness games this weekend, but none with ticket sales hotter than Louisville, Ky.; Omaha, Neb.; and Seattle. That’s what happens when NCAA tournament games are basically home games.
The demand for tickets there shows how valuable ostensible home games are to ticket sellers, if not to fairness lovers. Kentucky, Kansas and Gonzaga — the first or second highest-ranked teams facing off in the hot-ticket cities — all play their home games less than 300 miles from their tournament host cities. Omaha gets a double dip of local teams, with No. 7 Wichita State playing there as well.
To get the list, I used data provided by two online ticket marketplaces, ScoreBig and SeatGeek. Connor Gregoire, a SeatGeek spokesman, sent data based on sales made via the site’s ticket search engine. Alison Burnham, vice president of pricing and analytics for ScoreBig, sent data for tickets available on her site and elsewhere on the secondary market.
I compared average prices for top-tier seats, and, separately, for the cheap seats. Also, some sessions are more attractive than others — people would rather go to a weekend session than one during the week, probably both because of the convenience and because weekend sessions tend to feature tighter games. In addition, weeknights beat weekdays, and Fridays beat Thursdays, perhaps because it’s easier to travel without taking two days off work. Since 2011, Friday afternoon sessions have averaged 19 percent higher prices for the best seats, 30 percent higher prices for the cheaper seats and 26 percent more sales on SeatGeek.
So I compared apples to apples: How did Thursday afternoon sessions, for instance, compare to average prices for that session this year?
After controlling for variables unrelated to which teams were playing, Louisville was clearly the hottest ticket among the four cities holding Thursday/Saturday sessions. Omaha and Seattle were the Friday/Sunday winners.
From a last-minute ticket-buyer’s perspective, the main question might be, how much is the least I can pay to get in? To answer that question, SeatGeek sent along daily figures for the ticket at the fifth percentile of listing prices for each session. Even these seats, some of the cheapest available, have stayed expensive for the round-of-64 sessions that feature quasi-home teams in Louisville, Omaha and Seattle. But for other sessions, prices have fallen. For instance, on Wednesday, tickets to the Thursday afternoon session in Louisville — the one that featured four teams not named Kentucky — could be had for just $14.
Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions.