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High ticket price was set during bidding for Frozen Four, organizers say

Bill Maher looked at the unusually low attendance for the Frozen Four, and acknowledged this much: Price in the marketplace for tickets was a concern.

Minnesota Duluth won its second consecutive national championship in men's hockey Saturday at KeyBank Center, but the Bulldogs won inside an NHL venue that had nearly 5,500 empty seats for the title game.

Maher, Canisius’ athletic director and a tournament co-director, on Monday addressed the uncharacteristic drop in attendance at the Frozen Four championship game.

Ten previous host venues had average crowds of at least 17,806 for the Frozen Four, according to NCAA records, and the 13,624 at the Frozen Four national championship game Saturday in Buffalo was the lowest attendance for the title game since 2001.

“I would say there were plenty of people in the marketplace who had that concern, but that was coming from a third-person perspective,” Maher said. “No one flat-out said to me, ‘That’s ridiculous’ (about ticket prices). I found out a lot from the media, people who were saying, ‘Tickets are too high.’ That doesn’t mean the conversation wasn’t out there.”

Much of the public criticism regarding the Frozen Four centered around the cost of a ticket for the Frozen Four and the inflexibility of purchasing single-game tickets, at least initially.

One ticket for the two semifinal games and the national championship game cost $300 for a seat in the lower bowl, while a seat in the upper bowl cost $210-$215.

According to the NCAA, ticket prices for the 2018 Frozen Four at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minn., were $290 a ticket in the lower level for three games, and $175 per ticket in the upper level.

The local organizing committee that secured the bid to bring the Frozen Four to Buffalo included Pegula Sports and Entertainment and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, of which Canisius is a member.

Through a spokesman, Pegula Sports and Entertainment referred comment to the NCAA, regarding low attendance at the Frozen Four in Buffalo.

“We haven’t dove into all the reasons that might have impacted attendance yet,” Steve Metcalf, the NCAA’s Division I hockey committee chairman and deputy director of athletics at the University of New Hampshire, told the News Saturday, prior to the national championship game. “I think it’s probably due to a combination of different things. Everyone would have loved to see more people come to the games.”

Maher also said a post-mortem of the event will be done both by the NCAA and the local organizing committee in the next couple of weeks.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz theorized Sunday on Twitter why the event was a low draw: cost-prohibitive.

"When we made the pitch for the bid NCAA officials said so many people travel to attend it annually regardless of who was in the 4 that most tickets would be sold before. That wasn't the case. Price was an issue, so was poor Sabres season IMO hurting marketing and other things," he tweeted.

Maher offered a similar explanation.

“The field and the teams that advance to Buffalo, those were not teams that drove a large number of ticket sales,” Maher said. “That certainly had an effect on other Frozen Fours. You also can’t argue the fact that there’s some fatigue in the marketplace, with the World Junior Championships (in December 2017 and January 2018), the Sabres and the price of Sabres tickets. That’s something we heard from a lot of people, too, that they can watch a Sabres game for considerably less.”

Yet even with a public outcry, the cost of tickets couldn’t be exponentially lowered to satisfy consumer interest. Single-session tickets were only made available in recent weeks, and on Friday, NCAA.com listed tickets for the national championship game that ranged from $120 to $240.

Otherwise, those interested in attending the national championship game sought out tickets on the secondary resale market, where the average cost of a ticket was around $60, and went as low as $40, in the hours before Saturday's title game.

“Pricing of the tickets is something the NCAA looks at,” Maher said. “They’re trying to maximize revenue from the event, and that’s a deciding factor.

“The marketplace didn’t react to it, but that’s a question of, what is the marketplace willing to support, as opposed to, is this too high?”

The cost of tickets was also tied to the bid that the committee submitted to the NCAA in 2016 for Buffalo to serve as host. Potential tickets prices were included in Buffalo's bid to the NCAA in 2016, although the NCAA had to approve final ticket prices based on the recommendation of the local organizing committee, a spokesman said.

“I want to make sure it’s clear,” Maher said. “The ticket pricing is driven by the competitive bid. If our bid was lower, the ticket prices would have been lower, but the likelihood of getting the Frozen Four would have been even lower.”

Frozen Four attendance plummets at KeyBank Center