Rich Ensor has more than a passing interest in how the Syracuse University men’s basketball team fares this season. If the Orange play as well as expected, they could play in Buffalo for the NCAA Tournament next March.
And if that happens, the likelihood of filled seats in First Niagara Center increases significantly - which would please Ensor, the commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The MAAC is again hosting the NCAA Tournament March 20 and 22.
“It’s important that we do sell out because it’s been the benchmark we’ve set here in this arena in previous tournaments. So, we want to do it again in ‘14,” Ensor said Monday during the Big 4 Basketball Media Day at the First Niagara Center.
Tickets for the second and third rounds at First Niagara Center will go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Buffalo is one of eight sites hosting the first weekend of the tournament which will be played with a Thursday-Saturday format.
With the field increased to 68 teams since the tournament was last held here, what used to be first- and second-round games are now second and third rounders. The four first-round games, the first four, are scheduled for March 18-19 at the University of Dayton.
According to the Tickets.com/First Niagara Center website, a ticket for all three sessions costs between $198 and $252 before fees.
This marks the fifth time in 14 years Western New York is hosting college basketball’s premier event. Buffalo previously hosted early round matchups in 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2010 in the multipurpose First Niagara Center.
Overall attendance in the NCAA – including the men’s basketball tournament and neutral site games – was down for the sixth consecutive year and Ensor would like to avoid a similar experience in Buffalo.
“I think what we have today is a different market,” Ensor said. “You have all the social media and you have to provide the fans an in-venue experience that equals to what they can get in front of their TV back at home. You do have to work a little harder than you did once upon a time.”
Attendance hasn’t been an issue here in Buffalo for past tournaments.
Of the eight venues that held games in the first and second rounds in 2010, Buffalo had the highest attendance, with a total of 56,535 fans for an average of 18,845.
The local average was higher than Salt Lake City’s, which held West Regional semifinal and finals games in front of an average of 17,420. The other regionals were held in high-capacity domes, including Reliant Stadium in Houston, which seats more than 71,000 for football.
“As in the past, we want to sell out this building,” Ensor said. “It’s important for our fans moving forward that this arena be filled and be exciting.”