Wiedmer: Final Four ticket lottery not always perfect

Wiedmer: Final Four ticket lottery not always perfect

May 28th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

NCAA logo

NCAA logo

Three days from today - Saturday - is the deadline to apply online for tickets to the 2015 NCAA Men's Final Four in Indianapolis. But for all those hoping to buy up to four ticket books (semifinals and final) for $190 apiece through the lottery format, Ringgold's David Miller has two important words of caution: Buyer, beware.

When Miller was notified last September that he could purchase tickets for the 2014 Final Four in Dallas, he was thrilled. He'd received similar good news before the 2011 Final Four in Houston, and all had gone perfectly. To make this past year even better, his beloved Syracuse Orange looked destined to return to the sport's grandest stage for a second straight spring, given their No. 1 ranking for much of the winter.

But not only did the 'Cuse collapse down the stretch, their season ending in the round of 32, when Miller attempted to sell his digital tickets for the semifinals and finals through PrimeSport -- the "Official Ticket Exchange of the NCAA," according to both entities' websites -- he was locked out by computer irregularities.

"They apparently started having problems on Saturday before the semifinals," said Miller, a retired schoolteacher who worked with Special Olympics athletes in Whitfield County. "By Sunday night they had shut the site down. You could no longer transfer your tickets. The only way to sell your tickets at that point was if you were actually in Dallas, which I wasn't."

Miller wasn't interested in scalping the tickets. He only wanted his money back. To make the issue more difficult, the NCAA went to an e-ticket or digital ticket a couple of years ago. Everything's online now. Paper tickets -- or "souvenir tickets," as they're now known -- are mailed to the public purchasing them through the lottery a couple of weeks after the Final Four ends. If you want to transfer tickets, it must be done over the Internet, which becomes quite a headache on the day of an event such as the Final Four.

The reason for the switch, according to the NCAA's Jason Sabatino, was to eliminate the threat of counterfeiting.

"And there were no reports of counterfeit tickets in either Atlanta (2013) or Dallas," Sabatino said by phone last week from his Indianapolis office. "I think a lot of people were nervous when we first went to this -- people are always hesitant to change -- but it's gone really well."

At least it had until PrimeSport began experiencing technical difficulties and thousands of tickets couldn't be transferred on the final weekend and more than a few folks -- Miller estimates several hundred -- lost hundreds of dollars.

"I wasn't going to let this go," said Miller, who contacted PrimeSport a couple of days after Connecticut knocked off Kentucky for the national title. "I left two or three messages, sent an email, nothing. It became clear that PrimeSport wasn't going to do anything."

Now angry, Miller contacted a couple of law firms currently involved in lawsuits with the NCAA to inquire about a possible class-action lawsuit.

"They told me they don't even consider something like that unless there's more than a million dollars on the line," he said. "And there probably wasn't in this case."

Indeed, even if the sale of 2,000 to 3,000 tickets was lost, that wouldn't come to much more than $600,000 total. And most of the seats were filled, more than 79,000 total, which means the vast, vast majority of the 25,000 or so tickets made available to the public each year through the online lottery were used.

Still, if you're the person out close to $800, as Miller was, that's not chump change. Especially when you know the NCAA will report revenue of more than $800 million this year, most of that derived from the NCAA men's tournament.

So he called the NCAA, where he was initially told, "You had months to sell these."

Miller countered that the NCAA wouldn't consider a game won or lost with two minutes to go, so why should it consider ticket sales closed before the final game day arrived?

Finally relenting, the NCAA employee said, "We don't want any unhappy customers. We'll refund your money."

And so they did, much to Miller's relief.

Sabatino also said that PrimeSport has fixed the technical issue.

"We've been assured," he said, "that this won't happen again."

But before the NCAA begins sifting through all the 2015 Final Four ticket applications filed by Saturday night at www.ncaa.com/mbbtickets, Miller also hopes college athletics' governing organization will treat the others harmed by PrimeSport as it treated him.

"I'm grateful I got my money back," he said. "But I told them they need to do this for all the other people who had the same trouble I did. If everything's on a computer, they know what seats weren't filled. They need to do something to reimburse them."

For an organization that always claims to do what's right, can there be any other fair and equitable conclusion?

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.