University of Kansas

KC is hottest ticket among NCAA regionals and KU can’t keep up with fan demand

Sprint Center ready for NCAA Midwest Regional

Tim Allen, NCAA Tournament director, talks about the preparations taking place at the Sprint Center for the NCAA men's basketball Midwest Regional semifinals and final on Thursday and Saturday.
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Tim Allen, NCAA Tournament director, talks about the preparations taking place at the Sprint Center for the NCAA men's basketball Midwest Regional semifinals and final on Thursday and Saturday.

Mark Allen has had trouble getting tickets to the NCAA Tournament, an event his grandfather, Phog, helped create eight decades ago.

“It shouldn’t be this difficult,” Allen said.

But the Midwest Regional at the Sprint Center involving Kansas, Purdue, Oregon and Michigan is the toughest ticket in the NCAA Tournament among the four sites this weekend.

As of Tuesday, New York-based TicketIQ, a ticket search engine and aggregator, advertised the cheapest tickets for Thursday’s semifinals matching Oregon vs. Michigan and Kansas vs. Purdue at $252, and seats for Saturday’s championship game were going for $152. The average prices were $432 and $242.

Prices jumped 28 percent after the Jayhawks punched their Sweet 16 ticket with Sunday’s second-round victory over Michigan State in Tulsa, Okla.

So although the Midwest Regional is technically sold out, tickets can be purchased. What has miffed Allen is how few tickets are available through KU Athletics.

The NCAA allots each school 1,000 tickets — 500 in the lower bowl and 500 in upper sections — for the Sweet 16/Elite Eight round with the possibility of purchasing some upper-level tickets that other schools don’t sell. Returned tickets are offered in equal amounts to the three other schools.

That occurred on Wednesday, bringing good news to the ticket squeeze. Kansas got notice that it had received additional tickets from the NCAA and is able to  not only accommodate its two highest donor levels but offer tickets to those in its third, who contribute in the $10,000-$24,999 range.

The additional tickets were greatly needed considering Kansas’ obligations before tickets can be offered to donors. Some 250 are held for coaches, players, families and support staff. A portion is reserved for students and faculty, and a handful go to KU corporate partners like IMG and Adidas.

That leaves about 490 for fans, and donors to KU’s Williams Educational Fund get first crack at those. Demand is so great, initially tickets were only made available to donors at the two highest levels, with a minimum annual contribution of $25,000. And unlike in previous years when they could purchase four tickets per account, only were two made available.

“We’re really limited on what we can do,” Kansas associate athletics director Jim Marchiony said. “It’s an annual problem for us.”

It’s also a problem for other schools such as Kentucky and North Carolina and perhaps a half-dozen more with avid followers. But the issue intensified this year for Kansas with the regional set for Kansas City, some 40 miles from Lawrence. This is the first Sweet 16 here since 1995 and the Jayhawks are the highest-seeded team left in the tournament.

This year’s four regional sites were announced in 2014. The Jayhawks’ successful season is how they earned the top seed in the Midwest Region and were awarded a geographically friendly path through Tulsa and Kansas City to the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz.

“The good news is we’re playing close to home,” Marchiony said. “The bad news, for getting tickets, is we’re playing close to home.”

According to the NCAA, approximately 25 percent of regional tickets go to the participating teams and 70 percent went on public sale in November 2016 through the Sprint Center box office and and sold out in a matter of weeks. Five percent are held by the NCAA. The Sprint Center holds about 19,000 for basketball.

But tickets were always available — and remain available — through the secondary market at prices above face value. According to Ralph Garcia, director of business development of TicketIQ, tickets get into the secondary market through brokers who buy tickets to re-sell based on market demand. Also, it provides an outlet for those who bought tickets with the intent of going to the games but cannot.

The secondary market includes outlets like TicketIQ, Stubhub and Overland Park-based Tickets For Less. The NCAA has its own secondary ticket and hospitality package provider, PrimeSport, presented as a “safe and reliable process to access tickets to our events.”

Garcia said for the secondary market for the Midwest Regional peaked at about 3,300 tickets, and estimates that more than 80 percent of those who purchased tickets plan to use them.

Allen, a Kansas City physician and lifelong KU fan, was among those who received a note before the tournament started that said KU had received about 1,200 requests from their top three donor levels to the Williams Education Fund for the games in Kansas City. This was before the Jayhawks beat Michigan State on Sunday to advance.

Kansas coach Bill Self and the KU Jayhawks arrived in Kansas City on Tuesday afternoon and will practice Wednesday at the Sprint Center in preparation for their NCAA Tournament game vs Purdue.

“We are notifying you now as we received our allocation numbers from the NCAA and want to give you the opportunity so seek out secondary markets,” the note read in part.

He wants more tickets going to the schools.

“I think we all believe that more tickets should be in the hands of the member schools,” and not on the secondary market, Allen said.

This is the first time he’s gotten the warning notice. Ironically, Phog Allen was not only one of the influential figures in starting the NCAA Tournament, his idea to bring the finals to Kansas City a year after the inaugural event was a financial flop, proved the tournament could work. It played to sellout in 1940 at Municipal Auditorium.

It became a hot ticket then, and that was without a secondary market.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff