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Tournament ticket sales down from years past

NNBW Staff

With less than a week remaining before the start of the Western Athletic Conference basketball tournament in Reno, ticket sales are weaker than previous years.

That could translate into fewer hotel guests and a less-than-expected benefit to the region’s tourism industry.

“This is a great event that draws strong local following and gives us good TV coverage while also bringing in out-of-town visitors, which is obviously important,” says Ellie Oppenheim, president and chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.

The RSCVA and the University of Nevada, Reno, will equally split the cost of hosting the tournament. Oppenheim says costs will run between $1.1 and $1.2 million.

Amy Engelbert, director of athletics ticketing for UNR, says all-session ticket sales are down from past years, with the bulk of out-of-area visitors coming from Utah.

“It is a little down from what we are hoping,” Engelbert says. “The only school that seems to travel every year that we host is Utah State, and they are probably going to bring 600 to 700 fans and close to 200 students.”

By late last week, about 3,900 all-session tickets had been sold for the tournament that runs March 10-14 at Lawlor Events Center. Individual-game tickets go on sale today, and Oppenheim says the WAC tournament typically sees a lot of last-minute ticket purchases and hotel bookings from fans within driving distance or a short flight to Reno.

In 2006, the last time the tournament was held at Lawlor, fans purchased 55,655 tickets and the event finished in the black. In 2005 the tournament lost money, but the profits from the 2006 tournament more than made up for the previous year’s loss.

This year, ticket sales may not reach 2006 levels because of the recession and because the Wolf Pack men’s team isn’t as successful as it was during its 2005-06 season.

“I am hopeful, but we really won’t know until the event wraps up,” says Oppenheim.

When the rights to host the tournament were bid in 2007, competition among WAC schools was stiff.

“Nobody knew the economy would look as turbulent today as it clearly does,” she says. “We absolutely are counting on a strong local following, which tends to be bigger when the team is at its strongest. I hope our local residents will come out and support the Wolf Pack.”

Sponsorships will defer some of the costs of the tournament.

The Eldorado Hotel Casino, Peppermill Resort Casino, Silver Legacy Resort Casino and Atlantis Casino Resort Spa will provide services and cash. Other sponsors include Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Scheels, Best Buy, Wachoveia, Verizon and Morrey Distributing.