The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference takes pride in selling out the First Niagara Center prior to the announcement of the NCAA Tournament field, and the league is in position to do it once again.
As the MAAC approaches the final stages of planning, fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for the second and third rounds, March 20 and 22.
With No. 2-ranked Syracuse a virtual lock to play in Buffalo, the remaining tickets should be gobbled up before the event begins.
“That’s very good considering today’s ticket market,” said Ken Taylor, the MAAC’s associate commissioner for men’s basketball. “Five or 10 years ago you’d be able to sell this thing out through a lottery system, but with the advent of online ticketing people can wait a little longer because you can always get your way in. So it makes it more challenging to sell tickets in advance.”
Preparation for the NCAAs is old hat for the MAAC.
This year marks the fifth time in 14 years Western New York is hosting college basketball’s premier event. The multipurpose First Niagara Center hosted early-round matchups in 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2010.
The MAAC started planning immediately after submitting a bid in the summer of 2012 and placed value on moving tickets.
Overall attendance in the NCAA – including the men’s basketball tournament and neutral site games – was down for the sixth consecutive year but it appears that won’t be the case here.
It helps that the unbeaten Orange is likely headed to Buffalo. With the pod system, the NCAA keeps the top-seeded teams closer to home and Syracuse is in position for a No. 1 seed, just as it was in 2010 when the Orange blew out Vermont and Gonzaga at the First Niagara Center.
“That’s not lost on anybody,” Taylor said. “If Syracuse keeps going the way they’re going, like they were in 2010, it would be a pretty safe bet that they would be assigned to Buffalo. They’re the only team we’ll really talk about and we only talk about them from a ticket sales perspective.”
Now, it’s a matter of wrapping up logistics.
The MAAC had a two-day visit with NCAA officials last month during the doubleheader with Niagara against Davidson and Canisius and the University at Buffalo, and the feedback was encouraging.
“We spent the entire day in the arena going over every little thing, how everything will be laid out, where we’re going to put everything all that little stuff,” Taylor said. “We visited every hotel we’re going to use for the teams, the media, the referees and everything like that. … The NCAA is very poker-faced when comes to these things but the feedback is generally positive with Buffalo.”
Last week, Taylor had an hour-long conference call with the NCAA staff and its marketing arm.
Final preparations include another run-through with the arena and hotels and the recruitment of volunteers, but at this point it’s all routine.
“We’ve done it a few times and a lot of this stuff I can really look back and copy and tweak and do the things we did with the last go-around because it worked out pretty well,” Taylor said.