KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Joe Shahan of Lenexa lost his job a couple of weeks ago, but prospects to get back in the work force look encouraging.
With some money saved up, he wanted to treat himself to the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament at the Sprint Center and contacted some ticket brokers.
“There’s no way,” Shahan, 22, said Monday. “Not at these prices.”
It’s a seller’s market. The tournament has been an advance sellout in each of its previous three years at the Sprint Center, but 2012 is ratcheted up for a few reasons.
First, the four schools closest to Kansas City — Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Iowa State — are having excellent seasons with the Jayhawks and Tigers ranked among the nation’s top five teams. The Wildcats and Cyclones are well-positioned to join KU and MU in the NCAA Tournament.
They all have rabid fan bases, and as former Iowa State coach Johnny Orr said, “You’re going to see a caravan to Kansas City from Iowa.”
Also, it’s Missouri’s last stand as a Big 12 member. The Tigers would love nothing more than to depart the conference with a trophy.
Add it up, and the price soars. Tickets for all five sessions have a face value ranging from $195 to $350. But Shahan, a Kansas fan, said he contacted three brokers on Monday, and saw an all-session ticket going for $2,100.
Dan Rouen, president of Tickets for Less in Overland Park, said interest has been building for weeks, and the prospect of a Kansas-Missouri championship game is driving the price.
“The KU-MU buzz is just huge with how good the game was in Lawrence a couple of weeks ago,” Rouen said.
But it’s not just the final. Rouen said interest has spiked for the quarterfinal round Thursday. The daytime session opens with Kansas State and Baylor. The Jayhawks play next. The evening session includes Missouri and Iowa State.
“It’s working out really perfect for us,” Rouen said. “The tournament will be strong all week if the local teams advance. But the whole key for us is KU. If KU is out early, no matter who is playing it will become a cheaper ticket.”
If the Jayhawks and Tigers reach the final and meet for what amounts to a rubber game after they split two spectacular regular-season games, fans seeking tickets may be looking at a mortgage payment.
“I’ll go, especially if it’s MU-KU,” said Scott Jones, 46, a Missouri fan from Smithville, Mo. “But if it comes down to that, you’re gonna have to shell out some money.”
At Tickets for Less on Monday, lower level mid-court seats for the entire session started at around $1,500 with “get-me-ins going for about $395,” Rouen said.
Each Big 12 school is allotted 1,100 tickets with 750 in the lower bowl. Each school bought at least that many, and those that didn’t sell out the remainder had them redistributed to other schools. All 11,000 school tickets were sold.
The conference keeps between 1,500 and 2,000 for internal use, most of which go to corporate sponsors. Some of the remaining 5,000 go to suite holders, and last month the Big 12 offered a public sale. Those tickets were gone in five hours, said Big 12 senior associate commissioner Tim Allen.
“Sometimes there are soft sellouts where the promoter might have tickets returned,” Allen said. “This is a hard sellout. There aren’t any tickets.”
But there will be when teams lose and the area outside of Sprint Center becomes a ticket bazaar. The Big 12 doesn’t have a ticket-exchange program. Fans do that themselves.
“Kansas City has been a phenomenal market for tickets finding the way back into the marketplace and the fans of the schools that want to buy them,” Allen said.
Scalping is legal in Missouri, but scalpers must have a proper business license. In 2008, the first year of the tournament at the Sprint Center and the first year scalping was allowed, a handful of scalpers were arrested.
Jones said he’s been lucky in the past. He’s run into an MU fan with an extra ticket. He’s also been given tickets by fans of losing teams looking to head home.
“You can either buy them cheap or they’ll just give them to you,” Jones said.
But this year may be different. It has been for Allen, who has been with the Big 12 since the conference’s inception in 1996.
“I hear a good event manager will go into an event with maybe 50 tickets in the pocket for last-minute issues,” Allen said. “I’m not sure we have any left.”