They say everything in Texas is bigger, and that's certainly the case this year for the final four, which will be played in AT&T Stadium. Opened in 2009, the stadium can hold 105,000 with standing room, and the Cowboys routinely pack in over 100,000 for their home games. Formerly knows as Cowboys Stadium, it's the world's largest domed structure and the world's largest column-free interior. It also has the fourth largest high-definition video screen on the planet. When it hosts the final four this weekend, AT&T stadium will add another superlative to it's stable: the largest crowd ever to attend a NCAA tournament game college basketball game. The previous record was the 75,421 people that saw the 2011 Final Four semifinal games at Houston's Reliant Stadium. Depending on how much standing room they decide to open up, this year's Final Four may also break the all-time college basketball attendance record of 78,129. While Jerry Jones is undoubtedly proud of the latest achievement for the stadium many call Jerry World, it's also good news for college basketball fans. As a result of the prodigious capacity, Final Four tickets are cheapest than any other year in recent history.
At an average price of $572 for the semi-final game on Saturday night, AT&T Stadium will have the cheapest ticket for a semi-final session over the last four years. All of those games were played crowds of over 70,000 fans in stadiums built for football. To find the last time a NCAA tournament was actually played in a basketball arena, you have to go back to 1996. That year, the tournament was held at Continental Airlines Arena, which is now known as the I Zod Center. For NCAA basketball, the former home of the Nets seats 20,029 people, or roughly one-quarter of the fans that will see the game this year. While 1996 was certainly another era in college basketball, many of the characters were actually the same, including Kentucky, who went on to win their sixth national championship that year, and their first under coach Rick Pitino.
The next year, the tournament was held at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, the former home of the Indianapolis Colts. When the NCAA tournament moved away from basketball arenas for good, there was an initial effort to keep a sense of intimacy. In the twelve years after the 1996 final four, the average attendance for final four games was a curtain-draped 46,131. Over the last five years, however, the curtain has been dropped and the average has jumped up to 72,707. With the addition of those 25,000 to 30,000 seats for sale, at an average face price of $200, the NCAA is netting themselves around $5,000,000 of found money. In addition to leaving no doubt about the size of 'big money' in college athletics, the extra capacity also broadened the financial benefit to host cities, and made the incentive for getting the tournament even greater.
It's estimated that visitors to the 2014 Final Four in Dallas will spend $275 million. That figure is slightly more than the 2010 NBA All-Star Game that was also hosted at the same venue, but only half of what fans spent for the SuperBowl the following year. In a 1998 article in the San Antonio Business Journal it was estimated that the NCAA Final Four that year would generate $31 million in direct economic impact on the city. Astoundingly, that's only 11 percent of the dollar figure projected for this year, even though attendance in 1998 was 52 percent of what's expected this year. If you're wondering where the discrepancy lies, it actually has nothing to do with the game itself, but with all the other things going on around the game. Specifically, this year a three-day event will take place in Dallas called the NCAA March Madness Music Festival. It's one the most ambitious brand-activation events surrounding a big sporting event ever. It will feature a free Bruce Springsteen concert as part of the Capital One Jam Fest on Sunday, and will be preceded by the Coke Zero Countdown on Saturday with Tim McGraw and the AT&T Block Party on Friday. While all these events are free, they offer a pretty compelling case to make a long-weekend of the trip. If we spilt the $275 million evenly amongst the 80,000 fans and others coming into town, that's a credit card bill of $3,437. At a $572 average, the game ticket only accounts for 15 percent of that, and while it's the main attraction, in a world of 78,000-capacity basketball games, it's nothing more than the cost of entry.
For an overview of travel and ticket options for the tournament, visit the TiqIQ blog.
Below is a list of all the Final Four Location and Attendance over the last 19 years.
2013: Georgia Dome: 75,350
2012: New Orleans Superdome: 70,913
2011: Reliant Stadium: 75,421
2010: Lucas Oil: 70,930
2009: Ford Field: 72,922
2008: Alamodome: 42,257
2007: Georgia Dome: 51,458
2006: RCA Dome: 43,168
2005: Edward Jones Dome: 47,262
2004: Alamodome: 44,417
2003: Superdome: 54,524
2002: Georgia Dome: 53,406
2001: H.H.H Metrodome: 45,994
2000: RCA Dome: 43,116
1999: Tropicana Field: 41,340
1998: Alamodome: 40,509
1997: RCA Dome: 43,134
1996: Continental Airlines: 20,254