TAMPA — A stagnant economy, a location change and an uncharacteristically down year in SEC basketball has led to sluggish ticket sales for the SEC men's basketball tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum, prompting some schools to reduce prices.
All-session ticket books for the 11-game, four-day tournament scheduled for March 12-15 were intended to be sold for $300.
Among the 12 SEC schools, only Kentucky had sold out its allotment of 1,100 tickets as of Thursday afternoon.
That has resulted in several schools, including Mississippi State, Mississippi and Auburn, cutting their ticket prices. Auburn is offering upper-level books for $99, while Mississippi, which has about 500 remaining, has reduced its upper-level books to $150.
"To try to get tickets moving, we've lowered the price," said John King, assistant athletic director for ticket operations at Mississippi State, which is selling upper-level seats for $100. "We're responsible (for paying full value for allotted tickets), and instead of getting nothing, we're wanting to at least get something out of them."
In years past, schools would rely on demand from fans at other schools, particularly those with winning seasons or strong tradition. But apparently not this year.
"This is a weak economy, and overall, the conference in general having just one team in the Top 25 (LSU), that has curbed enthusiasm some," said King, whose school has about 400 tickets. "We're all struggling a little bit."
The SEC isn't alone.
On Tuesday, the ACC announced that tickets are available to the general public for the first time since 1966 for its men's tournament, which will be held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.But not every SEC school is in dire straits.
LSU, which on Tuesday clinched at least a share of the regular-season title, had about 75 all-session ticket books remaining. Tennessee, which plays Sunday at Florida with a chance to move back into a first-place tie in the SEC East, had about 150. And Florida, which may be critical to the tournament's success because of its proximity to Tampa, had about 200 books left. None of those schools has reduced ticket prices.
But South Carolina, which sits atop the SEC East, has about 650 ticket books left, and Alabama has fewer than half of its 1,100 remaining. Tide athletic officials have begun offering single-session tickets for $50, in addition to the $300 full-session booklets.
"We're making it more flexible for people not interested in buying the full booklet," said Doug Walker, associate athletic director for media relations.
Walker said it's difficult to determine whether the sluggish economy is the overriding factor in slow sales, but moving from the Georgia Dome is a factor.
"Normally the tournament is over in Atlanta, which is 2½ to 3 hours from us," Walker said. "(Tampa) is out of our region, totally out of our geographic area, and that's a big factor."
In the bay area, about 2,000 all-session tickets are available for purchase by the general public, said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.
"I think we're in pretty good shape," Higgins said Wednesday. "It's been a competitive year, and a lot of fans (still) think their team has a chance to win."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org