|Wednesday, March 27
Frozen Four turns cool profit for NCAA
By Darren Rovell
The Frozen Four is hot.
Profits for the tournament, including the Frozen Four, are expected to break the $1 million barrier this year, said Tom Jacobs, the NCAA's director of championships. That would top the $824,776 profit the tournament generated in when it was held at Boston's FleetCenter in 1998. Since 1991, when the NCAA stopped paying schools for their performance, the organization's average cut has been $413,339.
Men's ice hockey is one of four NCAA Division I championships that turn a profit, a select list of postseason tournaments that includes men's basketball, baseball and wrestling. Despite its growing popularity, the women's basketball tournament continues to lose millions of dollars each year, based primarily on low attendance figures in early round games. Last year, the NCAA lost more than $6 million to run the women's basketball tournament. Football is not included on the NCAA's short list of profitable postseason tournaments since profits from college bowl games are directed to the individual conferences.
A proposal to expand the Frozen Four from a 12-team format to a 16-team bracket would help increase the tournament's revenue "by at least a couple hundred thousand dollars," Jacobs said. The proposal must make its way through a series of approvals by the Division I management council on April 8-9, the Division I board of directors on April 25 and then the executive committee in August before the expanded tournament format can become a reality.
Tickets to the Frozen Four semifinal and championship games are a tough find. With the University of Minnesota in the tournament, demand should be even greater. The final three games are traditionally sold out, leaving fans to hope that they can get tickets through the NCAA lottery system. Face value of the tickets for the three games is $124.50.
Those fans who regularly attend the Frozen Four are placed in a priority pool. This year, 6,092 tickets were awarded through the priority pool, and another 3,900 tickets were awarded from the general pool. But similar to how tickets are distributed for the Super Bowl and the NCAA's men's basketball tournament, only 55 percent of the seats at the Frozen Four will be allocated to paying fans. Each of the four participating schools receives 500 seats, another 50 seats each for their bands and, of course, the local organizing committee is taken care of, too. The remaining tickets, numbering in the thousands, are distributed by the NCAA to its corporate partners.
The rubber bands popularized by NBA stars like Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, have made their way onto the college scene. Since Garnett began wearing the bands customized with inspirational phrases and nicknames a year ago, Wordstretch founder Ave Green said her company has sold 8 million rubber bands. The company, which already is licensed with the NBA, WNBA and Major League Baseball, makes its debut with the NCAA limited edition Final Four packet of Fan Bands this week. The packet of five bands, priced at $5, have the names and logos of the four Final Four teams and a special Final Four 2002 band. "The list of players wearing our bands is growing everyday," Green said.
NBA teams are ordering them in large quantities, Green said.
When Derek Anderson separated his right shoulder in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals last year, the Spurs ordered 50,000 bands that read "DA #1." The Nuggets also ordered thousands that read "Welcome back, Mac" when Antonio McDyess returned from his knee injury earlier this year.
Never bet against the house in Vegas
Looking for counter programming to air opposite CBS' coverage the NCAA men's basketball title game on Monday, NBC is hoping to attract a disinterested female audience with taped coverage of Canadian figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier's recent show in Edmonton.
"Jamie and David's Homecoming" is an hour-long show that includes highlights from their show with the Russian pair Anton Sikharulidze and Elena Berezhnaya. Their figure skating performance was aired live on Canadian television on March 12.
Sale and Pelletier will be involved in a Christmas special on NBC, according to their agent, Craig Fenech. It is not clear whether the Russian pair will be in the event, said Fenech, who is in the process of arranging a North American Tour for all four Olympic gold medalists.
"It might not be used as frequently as the yellow line, but it will have applicability across a lot more sports," said Bill Squadron, Sportvision's CEO.
It will cost a network between $20,000 to $25,000 to utilize the technology for a live broadcast, Squadron said, though the cost will be significantly less if the technology is used in a taped highlight show.
Cornering the market
The playoff-bound New Jersey Nets appear to be rebounding from its four-year attendance slide. Since the 1997-98 season, when they drew a team-record 17,525 fans per game, the Nets' attendance has steadily declined. It fell by an average of 1,000 fans for the following two seasons and slipped to 13,807 last year. Attendance bottomed out early this season when the Nets averaged less than 6,000 fans for their first seven home games. Since then, the team's average has climbed to slightly more than 13,000 per game, and with the Nets now headed to the playoffs, the team is hopeful of drawing bigger crowds to the Continental Airlines Arena. Only the Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets are averaging fewer fans per home game than the Nets this season.
In recent seasons, the Nets have given away tickets to bolster its attendance figures, but the team said it would cease the practice this season. Nets spokesperson Gary Sussman declined to comment on the team's ticket sales or future marketing plans.
Revenue, apparently, wasn't part of its mission
"It's all part of a slow building process," Levine said. "We were very successful on weekend nights, but we didn't schedule enough of them. We had six players called up and five of them signed contracts for the season, and we're pleased with the development of the coaches and executive staffs that we think can be in the NBA soon."
Levine said that there is no immediate timetable for expansion or when the league expects to turn a profit.
EBay still won't allow sellers to hawk tickets to in-state events where scalping is prohibited, but has relaxed its stance on out-of-state sales. Verifying a user's actual location might provide the site with a challenge. A person in New Jersey selling tickets to a Giants game on eBay, for example, won't be able to get more than 20 percent of the ticket's face value, per New Jersey state law. But if that person sells the ticket from New York, the bidding is without limit.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org