The bandwagon might not be as full as in the past, but Creighton fans appear to be gearing up to follow the Bluejays to New York City next March.
The school has sold more than 800 all-session tickets in less than a week to the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. That's already allowed Creighton to exceed the league-mandated requirement that each of the 10 schools sell a minimum of 750 tickets by Nov. 1.
“We were hoping to get there (750), and now that we have, we're hoping to get to 1,000 or 1,200 or 1,400,” said Adrian Rider, Creighton's director of ticket operations. “If we could, I think that would be a big statement leading into our first Big East tournament.”
Rider and other Creighton officials know that the number of fans who follow the Bluejays to New York will be nowhere near the turnouts for the Missouri Valley tournament in St. Louis.
That support peaked last season when Creighton sold more than 4,000 all-session tickets and had about 6,000 fans in the stands when it won the Valley tournament.
Creighton is the westernmost member of the new conference, and distance was a concern in getting fans interested in traveling to New York. So is the cost of tickets.
All-session tickets to the Valley tournament cost $115 last season. This year there are five ticket options, ranging from $180 to $600, for all-session tickets to the Big East tournament.
“Our fans have been hit with a lot of change in a short period of time,” said Kevin Sarver, Creighton's associate athletic director for external operations. “But I think they knew the price would be more than the $115 that it was last year. I think it has helped that the conference did a pretty good job of balancing how it used to be and the way it is now with coming up with more pricing levels.”
In the past, all 18,000 all-session tickets made available to the schools cost $440. The Garden, which also includes about 5,000 suite tickets that are not made available to the public, sold out for all sessions.
With the makeup of the new conference — seven schools from the old Big East joined with Creighton, Xavier and Butler — there was an obvious concern about maintaining that level of support.
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“I think all you have to do is take a look at the schools no longer in the Big East and the number of tickets those schools sold,” Sarver said. “The tournament is an important event for our league, and the schools need to do everything they can to assure that it continues to be a big event.
“That obviously created some concerns within the league, but that just means that people have to work harder and strategize better to do everything they can to fulfill the league's goal.”
One reason the league upped the deadline from Dec. 1 to Nov. 1, Rider said, is that conference officials know they will depend more than ever on sales to the secondary market.
“In the past, the league never needed to set a minimum,” Rider said. “The schools sold out the event, but now there's going to be a need to offer tickets to the general public in order to continue having the tournament sell out.
“Even with some of the schools taking more than the minimum of 750, we're probably still looking at selling around 8,000 tickets on the secondary market. That's going to take time.”
Creighton fans have the option of purchasing $180 and $275 tickets with the idea they will be upgraded later to either $350, $399 or $600 tickets. Tickets in the latter three prices are mostly in the Garden's lower bowl, while the $180 and $275 tickets are in the upper bowl.
“We've been told the upper bowl seats are not good,” Rider said. “The $180 seats are seven stories above the floor. Most of our fans are going to want to upgrade, and we feel that in most cases we'll be able to accommodate them.”
The Valley utilized a block-seating system in which fans from a school were seated in adjoining sections of the Scottrade Center. Sarver said the Big East uses a “ribbon system” in which fans from different schools are intermingled in each section of the arena.
“You'll have two rows of Georgetown fans, two rows of Creighton fans and so forth,” Sarver said. “That lends itself to not having the big open gaps you would have had in the Valley if Creighton or Wichita State were eliminated early.”
In addition to paying more for tickets, Creighton fans will find the cost of transportation, food and lodging higher than in the past. Despite that, Rider said, he has heard few complaints from fans.
“We've had no pushback,” he said. “I think our fans know this is going to be an expensive trip. Some of the fans probably have been priced out of attending the tournament, but that's not something we've heard a lot about.
“We really wanted to make sure we at least reached the minimum number in order for Creighton to make a splash in its first season in the league. And we also wanted to make sure that we were contributing to the conference.”