Is Cost Of NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships Hurting Attendance?Posted on May 29, 2013
By Marty Conway
The NCAA men's lacrosse championships are returning to Baltimore in 2014, hosted at M&T Bank Stadium Memorial Day weekend, May 24-26. From a business perspective, the event, which left Baltimore in 2011, remained in stable economic condition. As the event departs Philadelphia, Pa., and returns to what some describe as its natural home in Maryland, it is coming off 10-year lows in terms of tickets sold. Can the event that some lacrosse insiders projected would repeatedly sell out NFL stadiums find financial reclamation in Baltimore?
Attendance at the 2013 championship weekend was 79,179 for the three-day event, which included the men's Division I semifinals May 25 and finals May 27, as well as the Division II and III finals May 26. By way of comparison, this year's event drew approximately 30 percent less than the 120,614 people it drew the last time it was held in Philadelphia, in 2006. The all-time attendance record for the event was set in Baltimore in 2007, when it drew more than 123,000 fans.
Lacrosse insiders and NCAA officials are now openly questioning the reasons for the attendance slide, and will consider alternatives to the previous conditions that were in place for bidders in the new four-year bid-cycle period, which opens in July 2013.
"We're going to allow more creativity and latitude around those bid responses than we ever have before," Jeff Jarnecke, the NCAA's associate director of championships and alliances, told InsideLacrosse.com.
Latitude indeed. In the words of 2010 New York gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan, "The rent is too damn high," in terms of the cost for tickets, parking and food for lacrosse Final Four weekend.
Ticket prices have more than doubled in 10 years; the cheapest all-session ticket was $40 in 2003, the last time the event was held at a campus location. All-session tickets to Lincoln Financial Field were $85 in 2013. Prices are already set for the 2014 event in Baltimore, and the cheapest three-day entry will be $79, and parking for the weekend is priced at $55.
Although NFL venues are comfortable, sleek and have a certain cachet, the stadium experience alone is incapable of being the primary reason for prices to rise more than 100 percent from a location such as Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md. Earlier during the last decade, NCAA officials had visions of filling NFL stadiums with fans, including premium club-level seating and suites. Certain NFL owners supported those visions, and their local public officials jumped in headfirst, needing events to fill their new stadiums and put heads on beds in hotel rooms. The ticket prices are a direct result of the revenue guarantee the NCAA has been seeking from cities for its championship, and sources close to the negotiations indicate that past guarantee levels are no longer practical in today's marketplace.
As the recent downward trend in attendance illustrates, the NCAA and local organizers lost touch with those same fans that helped build the lacrosse Final Four weekend into the celebration it had become on campus, complete with tailgates and impromptu pickup games popping up in the parking lot.
Recently, local media outlets have reported that Baltimore is interested in becoming the permanent home of the championship, similar to relationships that cities such as Omaha, Neb., and Oklahoma City, Okla., have for the College World Series and women's softball championships, respectively. It seems unlikely the NCAA is ready to fix permanent host status for an event it perceives as having marketability in several locations on the East Coast.
First and foremost, the NCAA is a membership organization, with a limited track record in developing a sustainable financial model for nearly all of the 89 championships it hosts each year. The men's basketball tournament alone generates more than 90 percent of the revenue for the NCAA and subsidizes many of those championship events.
As a result, the NCAA depends on cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia to compete against one another in blind-bid processes for jewel events such as the men's lacrosse championships, anticipating a seven-figure guarantee to its organization, leaving the host cities with the risk that is inherent in selling tickets, food, beverage and parking.
NCAA leadership will have to come up with a successful formula for the men's lacrosse championships in order to increase attendance in 2014 and beyond.
Posted May 29, 2013