Demand for NCAA tickets at a high

The 330 wrestlers who qualify for the 2020 NCAA Division 1 wrestling championships will gain instant admission to an exclusive fraternity.

Those men, when each steps on the mat March 19, 2020, in U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis will have more people watching them compete than at any single event in the history of a sport which dates back to the ancient Greeks.

Ticket sales revealed by Anthony Holman, NCAA managing director of championships and alliance, during a conference call earlier this week paint a picture of high demand and even higher supply in an NFL stadium that seats nearly 67,000 fans for Minnesota Vikings games and crammed in nearly 73,000 for the men’s basketball Final Four in April.

Holman said that years of sellouts in arenas with capacities in the high teens and consistent demand for tickets sent the NCAA in search of more spacious venues. It found U.S. Bank Stadium, the first NFL stadium to host the championships.

“We were coming off of (10) consecutive years of sellouts and venues that were between 15 to 18,000 and the demand for tickets continued to grow. We were historically cutting the number of tickets that were requested by our institutions by 40 and 50%,” he said.

“While the arenas that we’ve been in have been really nice, we’re always tight for floor space and competition space, as well as back of the house space for student athletes to gather, to lounge in between competitions so those were just a couple of the key factors that went into the idea and thought process around moving to the stadium.”

As of this week, Holman said the NCAA had sold out 144 suites that hold an average of 16 people each, more than 20,000 tickets were being held for member institutions and 18,000 tickets have been sold to the general public.

“Typically, we only have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 1,500 tickets even available to the general public because the vast majority of them are sold to our membership,” Holman said.

So, with more than three months until the championships, it’s safe to say that more than 40,000 tickets have been sold to the championships. An exact number is hard to pin down without knowing if each member institution will sell out its allotment of tickets.

But, he said, schools typically request “300 times the number of tickets we’ve had available” so he said he was pretty confident that the total sold would easily surpass 40,000.

In addition to basic supply and demand, Holman said that experimenting with a much larger venue allows the NCAA to try to attract not only more fans, but new fans.

“Our demographic certainly skews to older men. And we typically have somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 to 90% repeat attendees, and in recent years has been as much as 93. It’s been a focused and concentrated effort in places where we’ve gone to New York, for example, where we had 22% first-time attendees there. We’re hoping to see that number increase even greater in Minnesota, and that’s intentional,” he said.

“We certainly love and appreciate our avid fans, but we want to introduce the sport and this tremendous championship to the next generation of fans as well and being in Minnesota will give us that opportunity to do that.”

Clearly, fans are responding to the venue and increased ticket availability in record numbers. However, some fans have been hesitant to commit because they think they’ll be so far from the action that their viewing experience will be diminished. While Holman confirmed that the mats will be in the middle of the field, but not pushed together as in the past, he tried to quash the worry a poor viewing experience.

“Yes, you’re in a stadium that’s certainly larger than an arena, but we’re going to have two, three times as many 100-level seats available than we have had previously. That viewing experience is going to be still really good. The mats will be spread out, not on top of each other, not joined together to provide more floor space. I think the viewing experience is going to be better than folks may anticipate,” he said.

“We will take full advantage of all of the electronics that we have available to us at the stadium, including ribbon boards, we’ve got two large video boards in the east and west ends of the stadium that we can cut into eights, or 12s, or even 16s for live video. We can have scores on the ribbon boards, on the video boards.”

And, he said, the scoreboards are bigger than in basketball arenas, the concourse is larger, there are more entry points, more concession stands and more restrooms, so the total fan experience will be better.

The championships return to the Enterprise Center in St. Louis in 2021 and then shift to Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit in 2022. After that? No venues have chosen beyond 2022, but Holman said that even if Minneapolis is a smash hit, that doesn’t mean a shift to strictly football stadiums.

“Does it mean if this is successful, that we will continue to go to stadiums? I don’t know if we’re married to that necessarily,” he said.

“We’ve tried to do something unique in each of (the last few) bid windows, in an Olympic year. In 2016, we were able to go to Madison Square Garden and do it in New York. In 2020, we’re going to be in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium. Again, another Olympic year, something unique.”

He said the bid process opened in late August for host venues in 2023 through 2026. That announcement of those four selections won’t take place until late summer or early fall.

He said that he knows people will be very interested to learn how successful this championship will be.

“I think, again, no promises, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other opportunities around stadiums going forward should this be successful,” he said. “I anticipate that we certainly will receive some bids from other stadiums. Folks will be tracking on the success of this for sure.”

Whether the next four venues are in basketball/hockey arenas or football stadiums, he said the focus will remain the same.

“We want to provide the best experience we can for our student-athletes. That’s where we start and finish. Part of doing that is, and they tell us in their surveys, is being able to participate in front of large numbers of fans and folks that enjoy the sport is important,” Holman said.

“The other thing that’s really important is being able to get their family members and others … that wouldn’t get a chance otherwise because they don’t have access to tickets, a chance to do that is really special. So, I want folks to keep that in mind, too. We want more people. We want a celebration of wrestling. We want as many people to take part in that celebration as possible.”