Austin is all caught up in a different kind of March madness at the moment, but next week the real thing comes to town.
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament will hold second- and third-round games at the Erwin Center, bringing eight teams and their fans from all over the country.
While this isn’t South by Southwest, the ACL Music Festival or Formula One racing in terms of numbers, the NCAA tournament provides an economic shot in the arm, and more, to the host cities.
“It’s a good, solid event,” said Matthew Payne, the executive director of the Austin Sports Commission. “Probably the best thing about it for us is the national media exposure. CBS and the Turner networks televise all the games, and it really gets the University of Texas and Austin’s name out there.”
That kind of free advertising for the school and city is invaluable.
“We’re excited about it,” said Dave Baxter, general manager of the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol, designated as the official NCAA tournament headquarters here. “Being a part of March Madness this year will have a high impact on the city. Austin is such a great attraction now, it’s one of the hottest cities in the country.”
Baxter’s hotel and others surveyed expect to be at 100 percent occupancy next Thursday through Sunday. Sports bars and restaurants are counting on at least a 20-percent boost over the normal.
An estimated 8,000-9,000 visitors will be in town for the NCAA tournament.
Texas has about 1,600 all-sessions tickets out for sale out of about 16,000, not counting seats reserved for fans of participating teams. The demand for those will pick up once Selection Sunday arrives and it is determined which teams are heading to Austin.
“We did very well early on,” Mark Harrison, UT assistant athletic director of ticket operations, said. “They have since slowed down some, but it’ll pick back up again once the brackets are announced. We’re pleased with how it’s going.”
TicketCity, the Austin-based ticket broker and online marketplace, also has a large stake in this event. It has its hands on a large number of tickets for the six Erwin Center games.
“All I’ve worked on all week long are preparations for Selection Sunday,” Caroline Edmondson, vice president of sales for TicketCity, said. “It’s not quite as busy as bowl selection Sunday, but once we know who’s coming, it’ll get kind of crazy around here. There’ll be a huge bump. So far most of the seats we’ve sold are to Austin-area clients and people from the state.”
Meredith Owen, TicketCity communications director, said, that in 2012, traffic on their site for Selection Sunday increased 44 percent from the two weeks prior (before the start of conference tournaments).
Edmondson said the average sales price for Friday’s first session doubleheader is a little over $200, the second session is $138 and Sunday’s third session $157. All-sessions passes have been averaging $550. The UT box-office all-sessions prices are $180 (mezzanine) and $225 (arena).
“We’ll customize our web site for fans of the teams coming here,” Owen said. “We’ll have a March Madness bracket game, too.”
Not surprisingly, Kansas City, where Kansas and perhaps Kansas State are expected to be sent, has the highest demand among early-round hosts. Austin, which won’t have a highly seeded nearby team as an anchor, ranks in the middle.
“I can hardly wait to see who we get,” said hoops fan Jeff James, watching games Thursday at Champions sports bar on East 4th Street. “A good Big Ten team would be cool. Or maybe North Carolina or Florida. I just want some entertaining matchups. This place will be jumping a week from now.”
What: NCAA men’s basketball tournament
When: Friday, March 22, and Sunday, March 24
Where: Austin (Erwin Center) is one of eight sites for second and third rounds.
Format: Eight teams will be assigned to Austin on Selection Sunday (5 p.m., CBS). There will be four games March 22 and a doubleheader March 24.
Tickets: All-sessions pass, $180 (mezzanine) and $225 (arena) at Texassports.com or the Erwin Center box office. Limited lower-level seats still remain.