NEW ORLEANS -- ( MainStreet) -- For college basketball fans, there's only one thing bigger than their team going to the Big Dance: the big demand for tickets once they've made it. The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is unique in the sports world not only for its 68-team format, play-in games and seeding, but also its approach to doling out tickets. Only 30% of all tournament tickets are available to the general public, with the remaining 70% divided among the Final Four schools and their discounted, ID-only student sections (25%), the Division I Institutions and Coaches Associations (15%), the host cities (10%), NCAA committees (10%), broadcast and corporate partners such as CBS ( CBS), Coca-Cola ( KO), AT&T ( T) and Capital One ( COF) (5%) and the NCAA's luxury hospitality packages (5%). Even when tickets sneak onto the secondary market, their prices and availability can fluctuate far more wildly than those of other major sports.
Brandon Davies of the Brigham Young Cougars drives to the basket Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
"When you put it into perspective with the Super Bowl or with the NFL playoffs or the NBA or NHL playoffs, it's a much slower and different dynamic," says Joellen Ferrer, spokeswoman for eBay ( EBAY)-owned ticket resale site StubHub. "With the Super Bowl, you've got a week to do things, with the others you have a series to deal with, so there's less of a day-to-day, hour-by-hour changing marketplace." That makes the random, errant March Madness ticket yet another treasure for an event that's basically a treasure chest. CBS and Turner Sports' deal to broadcast the NCAA tournament cost the broadcasters $10 billion and runs through 2024. The tournament has raked in more than $5.2 billion in ad revenue from 275 sponsors since 2002, according to Kantar Media, and saw revenue jump more than 20%, to $738 million, for last year's event. That's No. 2 among postseason sports properties, just behind the $900 million in ad revenue produced by the NFL postseason last year but well ahead of the roughly $450 million apiece in revenue produced by the Major League Baseball and NBA playoffs. The tickets don't exactly fetch chump change, either. This year's matchups in the tournament's South bracket, where top-seeded Kentucky plays what's basically an opening-round home game in Louisville, are pulling in an average of $254 and have sold out 31% of their stock on ticket resale site TicketsNow, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Swanson. It's even costlier in the East, where first-seed Syracuse and second-seed Ohio State's opening performances in Pittsburgh helped drive ticket prices to an average of $441 and diminished supply by 19%.