Roughly 2,000 ticket books to last year's ACC men's basketball tournament went unsold, leaving noticeable holes in the Greensboro Coliseum sections reserved for Boston College, Florida State and Miami fans.
Now the league is determined to make sure that doesn't happen again.
Not only has the conference changed its distribution policies - tiering the number of booklets each school is allotted to sell, rather than dividing them equally among the 12 universities - corporate sponsors have been granted more tickets also. In addition, the ACC is already talking to organizations in Greensboro about buying any tickets that aren't sold for this season's tournament, which will be held March 10-13.
"Schools are still selling ... but we are being proactive," said Karl Hicks, the ACC's associate commissioner for men's basketball operations. "Here's what I'm hopeful for: I don't want any ACC fan to think he or she can't get in, if they want to attend the tournament. If there are tickets available, we want to be able to get them into the hands of the fans who want them."
After struggling to fill the approximately 23,000-capacity arena last year, the league sat down with its athletic directors last spring to come up with a solution.
ACC commissioner John Swofford said last week that the conference, for the first time, opted to change the number of tickets each school was allotted to sell. The number of tickets given to each school depends upon the schools' requests, as well as each school's proximity to Greensboro.
North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech each received 1,990 ticket books, Hicks said. Maryland, Clemson and Virginia each received about 1,600. Boston College, Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech each got roughly 1,200.
Last season, by comparison, each of the 12 schools received 1,740 ticket books.
Locally, UNC and Duke this year have already sold out of their allotments, and N.C. State expects to sell out soon. Maryland and Virginia Tech are among those that have opened sales to the general public - universities usually sell tickets through their booster clubs first - and the ticket managers at all schools often swap phone calls, snagging extra booklets if their fan bases request them.
"What we've got to keep an eye on, and the question we need to ask is, there are plenty of people out there who want to be at the tournament. How do we need to adjust the distribution of the tickets if the donor bases at the member schools are not going to take up all the tickets?" Swofford said.
Swofford believes there are several factors that have affected attendance, including the economy; the failure of star players to stay three or four years; the explosion in popularity of the NCAA tournament; and the size of Greensboro Coliseum.
Expansion, leading to four games on the first day of the tournament, hasn't exactly increased the excitement level of the event either, but Swofford said the pluses of expansion far outweigh any minuses.
And in the future, he said, the league might look at reducing the price of tournament tickets, depending on the location of the seats. This year, Swofford said, an all-session book costs $396, no matter where you are seated.
"Going forward, we will assess this tournament, and see if there are any other changes that need to be made ... whether it's pricing or any number of things," Hicks said. "We didn't want the old way of distributing tickets to keep fans out of the building. We didn't want to be so wedded to the old way of doing things that it hurt the fans."
Hicks' best advice if you want to buy a ticket book: Contact the closest ACC school to you, and if it doesn't have any available, ask which school might.
"I think there is that assumption with fans in general [that there aren't tickets available]," Swofford said, "and another way we need to adjust as a conference - and it starts with the schools - when the schools do have some tickets left, we need to facilitate getting those tickets in the hands of fans who want to be there. Because they are out there; there's no question about that."
K questions Sunday games
Speaking of attendance figures, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wondered aloud - after playing yet another despised Sunday game - whether playing on Saturdays would put more fans in the seats.
"You know, we have three straight games starting at 3:30 [Sunday] in the ACC," Krzyzewski said after the Blue Devils beat Georgia Tech. "Those would have been better on Saturday from 3:30 on. That's when fans want to be out. Then we wonder why attendance is dipping. Have you noticed attendance has been dipping? Everywhere, not so much here, but we've got to figure that whole thing out."
The ACC will debut a new TV contract with ESPN and partner Raycom in 2011-12, and Krzyzewski wants the structure for basketball studied carefully.
A prominent Sunday package televised nationally on Fox Sports Net gets ACC teams exposure from coast to coast. But Krzyzewski says playing Sundays creates problems. This week, the Blue Devils will play three games in seven days.
"It's not a good thing," Krzyzewski said. "We shouldn't have 'em. And it puts us in a position this week to play three games in six days without really a day off. But again, we're not the only team that goes through it. It's just our turn. But I'm not complaining. I would not want that for anybody in our league. I don't think it helps our league."
No one in the ACC this season can antagonize quite like former Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez, who was back in College Park on Sunday to have his jersey retired. Asked about the Terps' NCAA tournament hopes, Vasquez told The Baltimore Sun that he was confident Maryland will win the rest of its games. "I think we can beat UNC at UNC anytime," he added. The Terps visit the 19th-ranked Tar Heels on Sunday.
Staff writer Ken Tysiac contributed to this report.
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