Money and finances touch everything in our lives, even March Madness. There is no other sporting event like the NCAA men’s final four basketball championship. “The Big Dance,” as it is known, is the place where March Madness comes to its frenzied end. My father and I got hooked when we attended our first final four in 1992. We’ve now made the trek to the Big Dance in 13 of the last 17 years.
A ticket to the final four is one of the hottest seats in all of sports. In days past, snagging a seat simply required a little luck or a lot of money. Now, it requires a lot of luck and a lot of money.
There are basically two types of seats at the basketball tournament: good seats (the “lowers,” those on the floor) and not-so-good seats (the “uppers,” those a step away from the stratosphere). The good seats are not made available to the general public. If you want one of these seats, be prepared to shell out $750 to $3,000 to a ticket broker. If you want a chance at getting an affordable not-so-good seat, you will have to enter NCAA’s annual lottery.
We’ve been pretty successful in getting uppers through the lottery, scoring in 12 out of our first 16 years. The NCAA accepts applications for about 60 days in the spring, with the drawing held in August. In 2008, you could put in as many chances as you wished at a cost of $2.50 each. (In 2009, it will cost $3.00.) The catch is that you must send in full payment for the total number of chances you buy.
In our early years of entering the lottery, we usually scored a ticket for every ten entries. Over the years, an increasing number of fans seeking tickets drove the odds up considerably, requiring us to gradually increase our number of applications every year. For the 2007 tournament, we sent in 100 entries and still didn’t get seats.
The pain of not obtaining seats last year caused me to do a little number crunching. I found out the odds of winning the NCAA lottery in 2008 would probably be 1 in 200. To be relatively assured of getting tickets would require us to send 200 entries.
With seats costing $170 for all three games, that would mean sending in a check for about $34,000 per seat. The interest cost for the three months the NCAA would hold our money would run about $600, and the non-refundable lottery fees would be $600. That’s a cost of $1200 per ticket whether or not we were drawn. If we were successful, the cost of the ticket would be another $170, bringing the total cost of each ticket to $1,370.
Finally, there are two types of “not-so-good” seats available in the lottery. The worst of the worst are called “distant view” seats and they outnumber the better “not-so-good” seats by two to one. This means the probability was high that our $1,370 would end up buying one of the worst seats in the house—at a cost at least double to quadruple the price we would pay for the same tickets on the street prior to the game.
You don’t have to be an investment advisor to figure out why we did not enter the lottery for the 2008 tournament tickets. Instead, we bought two really good seats from our favorite broker, sat back, relaxed, and used the leftover change to pay for our airline tickets and hotel room. Which just goes to prove that money skills are important, even for getting the most out of March Madness.