The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament usually is one of the toughest tickets in this part of the country. Not this year.
The return of the event to the league’s hometown failed to generate the packed houses that have become the norm here, and there were several reasons for that.
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The struggling economy, early exits by local favorites North Carolina and Wake Forest and the numerous upsets that derailed an expected Maryland-Duke matchup of top seeds kept attendance down at the Greensboro Coliseum, where capacity is roughly 23,500.
Speaking at halftime of Sunday’s championship game between Georgia Tech and Duke, tournament director Karl Hicks says the ACC is pleased with the turnout even as “we do recognize it’s not what it typically is.”
“’Perfect storm’ is kind of a cliche … but it is a number of variables converging at the same time,” he said. “That’s why I say we have to be careful that we don’t overreact, and that we understand that it’s a function of a lot of different things and that we adjust where we see appropriate, whatever those adjustments may be.”
Last year’s tournament was held at the spacious Georgia Dome, and as the league expressed a desire for a more intimate atmosphere, it said earlier this season that when the tournament heads back to Atlanta in 2012, it will be played at the 18,729-seat Philips Arena. The event will be in Greensboro next year and from 2013-15.
The attendance for each of the six sessions spread over the four-day event was announced as 23,381, but that total accounts for tickets sold. Many sessions were played before rows of empty green seats in the upper decks.
While the championship game had a bigger crowd – not surprisingly, Duke’s shade of blue was the predominant color – there still were a handful of half-full sections upstairs behind one basket. Closer to the court, one Duke fan seated about 10 rows behind the Blue Devils’ bench raised a sign that read: “Thank you Carolina & Maryland 4 my ticket!”
The lack of demand for tickets has created a few headaches for the folks selling them outside the arena. Ticket broker Kevin Stacom, who came in from Pittsburgh, said he was getting $50 for title-game tickets that had a face value of $36.
“When North Carolina and Duke are in there and it’s good, it’s two or three hundred dollars a ticket,” he said. “Usually when you’ve got North Carolina and Duke in there, it’s pretty good. … (North Carolina) doesn’t have a good team. If they would have had a good team like last year, all of these parking spots would have been filled.”
A semifinal victory by North Carolina State would have kept the Wolfpack’s passionate fan base around for another day and likely would have spiked demand, he said.
“If they would have won, this thing here would have been good today,” Stacom said.