Less than 48 hours before top-seeded UConn will begin its pursuit of an NCAA-record tying eighth national championship, the Webster Bank Arena stands to set an attendance low in its fourth go-around hosting the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in Bridgeport.
A subregional spokesman said late Thursday afternoon that there were “right about’’4,000 tickets sold at the 9,000-seat venue. The city has previously not drawn fewer than 6,556 in hosting the first and second rounds in 2004 and 2008 and the regional in 2006.
And it is the price of the tickets that could be a significant factor in the size of the crowds that attend Saturday’s first-round games between eighth-seeded Kansas State and ninth-seeded Princeton (11 a.m.) and UConn and 16th-seeded Prairie View A&M (1:30) and Monday’s second-round game (7 p.m.). Ticket packages for all three games are $62 and $41 for single games at the arena box office. There is no discount for senior citizens or youths.
The ticket price for the three games jumps to $70.80 after $8.80 in fees via Ticketmaster and $50.80 after $9.80 in fees should fans order on-line.
“I think (the price is) fair,’’ Fairfield athletic director Gene Doris said. “A lot of it is based on what the NCAA looks at and what the cost of putting on an event here is as opposed to putting it on someplace else. And they want to make sure they don’t lose money, obviously. They don’t accept the budget unless the revenue coming in shows that it’s going to balance it off.
“When you submit the bid to the NCAA, basically they take a look at what you’ve done in the past and they take a look at what the charges are going to be. And then they either approve or they disapprove of the budget and the ticket prices. So, basically, two and a half years ago when the bid was put in it was based on what the cost of running the event was going to be.’’
The tickets prices were set based on discussions between Fairfield University, Webster Bank Arena and the NCAA. Doris said that they have not changed since the bid was initially sent to the NCAA. Still, they represent the highest prices in the pre-Final Four rounds of the tournament.
Of the 11 subregional sites that feature single-session tickets, Bridgeport is $15 more than any other. Chicago and Norman, Okla. are next at $26. Bridgeport’s all-session price is $12 more than the $50 asking price in Little Rock, Arkansas for chair-back seating. No other site is charging more than $42 for all-session plans.
Looking deeper into the cost of attending a tournament game at Webster Bank Arena, the prices are also more expensive than all four regionals. Tickets prices for the Kingston and Fresno regionals are $50 for three games, including $35 for youths in Kingston and $25 in Fresno. Tickets for games in Des Moines, Iowa (chair-back seating) and Raleigh, N.C. are $45.
Kingston is charging $30 for single games ($20 youths). Fresno is charging $29 for single games ($14). Single game prices for Des Moines and Raleigh were not available.
“It’s based on what it costs to run in this market,’’ Doris said. “What we pay for stagehands, what we pay for set-up, what we pay for all of that is different than what you’re going to pay if you’re in a regional being played at the University of Rhode Island on the campus. I’m sure that if it was being played at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence the cost would be different.’’
UConn charged $37 for a three-game package ($27 for seniors/youths) and $22 for single game tickets for the first and second rounds at Gampel Pavilion last season. The Huskies drew 6,418 against Hartford in the first round and 5,729 in the second round against Purdue.
“And what makes it difficult to compare is that when you’re working at an on-campus building it’s a lot different than when you’re working elsewhere,’’ Doris said. “And that’s why if you take a look at most of the buildings around, with the exception of a couple, it’s really a major difference between what it costs to run an event on campus as opposed to running it off-campus.’’
Doris remains optimistic that the price of tickets will not keep fans from away.
“I would not think that it would when you take a look at what you’re getting, for example, for a $62 price,’’ Doris said. “And you take a look at everything else that people purchase in this market area. I don’t think you can go to a movie or anything like that that’s not going to be expensive. So for what you’re getting from an entertainment value I don’t think it’s unfair.’’
A crowd of 6,556 was on hand for UConn’s win over Cornell in the first round in Bridgeport in 2008 and 6,834 in the second round against Texas. The Huskies drew 9,091 for the regional semifinals against Georgia and the regional final against Duke in 2006. Crowds of 9,091 again showed up for the first and second rounds in 2004.
“I don’t get the feeling that there’s no-buzz on it,’’ Doris said. “I think there is a buzz on it. I’m not disappointed (by current ticket sales). It’s the reality of the market we’re in right now a little bit. I think a lot of people are going to wait until the last minute. I think when you take a look at Ticketmaster up-charges and things like that that are out there I think a lot of people in our area are pretty smart about knowing if they walk up to the box office they don’t have to pay any of that. So I think that the walk-up is probably going to be pretty good.’’