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March Madness: The Tickets Should Be the Sane Part

It’s almost here. The basketball, the sweat, the tears, the celebrations, the brackets and the highlighters that are March Madness.

Selection Sunday is March 17th, and after that, the NCAA tournament will kick off with the first set of four games on March 19-20 in Dayton, Ohio. That will be the initial stop for basketball fans on a magical road to the Final Four in Atlanta, culminating with the championship game on April 8.

The stops along the way include the second and third rounds, March 21-24, in Auburn Hills, Mich.; Lexington, Ky.; Salt Lake City; San Jose, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Dayton; Kansas City, Mo.; and Philadelphia.

Before closing the 2013 tournament in Atlanta, the four regionals will be held in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Arlington, Texas. Those locations will determine which teams will see their seasons end in Georgia, and most importantly, the one squad that will head home with the banner.

What could be better than seeing it firsthand? We asked online ticket vendor SeatGeek.com founder Jack Groetzinger and Director of Communications Will Flaherty for a few tips to keep your March Madness ticket search from driving you insane. Here's what they had to say:

Yahoo Finance: When do fans need to start buying March Madness tickets?

SeatGeek: One thing we’ve noticed is that, on average, prices tend to drop on the secondary market as the events approach. You would expect prices go up, but the data show otherwise, so we encourage people to wait until the week before the event, if possible. Of course, that can be tricky because people will be traveling. [If you’re worried about tickets selling out] the nice thing is there’s a lot of liquidity for the games, so it’s unlikely you'll get squeezed out entirely.

Editor's note: As with any trend, you accept the risk of finding the exception. The charts below show average prices leading up to the NCAA tournament games and for strip tickets for the last two years.

YF: Are any of the locations leading up to the championship more expensive than others?

SG: There's a lot of variability depending on hometown favorites. The higher the seed, the more likely they'll be playing closer to home. That's why Kansas City, with the Jayhawks likely to pull a high seed, and Lexington, convenient for Louisville fans, are likely driving up more demand than Austin, for instance. We're still quite early on and demand won't fully flesh out until selection weekend, but in general you can expect higher prices in locations that are in near geographic proximity to top tournament teams.

YF: Do ticket prices change based on which teams advance?

SG: Yes. As local favorites and teams with fans that travel well-- Duke or Syracuse, for instance -- advance, prices tend to be higher. If they get knocked out early, then you often see prices fall as fans dump tickets. The market is unique in that it's more fluid than other events -- and more of the commerce happens on the ground. Most fans are buying tickets for more than one game, and if their team gets knocked out, the implicit value of the second ticket is less. 

[Read more on March Madness: See Yahoo! Sports coverage]

YF: Is it better to buy by session or by a full strip?

SG: You might pay up to 19% less if you buy a full strip – a bundle of tickets for all of the tickets for a location or session. It’s not for everyone, but if you are interested in seeing more games, it may be the way to go. In half of the regions, the strip ticket is a cheaper option than buying each of the individual tickets separately. The only reason we believe that we're not seeing this same dynamic across more sites is that our data are still very limited at this point (relatively few tickets have been resold on secondary markets up until now). We'd expect that these averages will settle out such that buying the strip ticket is at least a 15 to 20% discount over buying just the individual tickets separately.

YF: And what can you tell us about buying by zone?

SG: You might see "zone" tickets listed during your search. It happens when a seller, typically a "professional" ticket seller, has a lot of tickets and doesn’t know what they’re going to sell. All things being equal, we recommend people don’t buy those, because it’s a bit more of a crapshoot. Also, if you buy a ticket with an exact seat listed, you would get it right away, so there’s less uncertainty.

YF: Is it better to buy hard copy or e-tickets? Is fraud an issue?

SG: In general, e-tickets are more prevalent. However, March Madness is one of those events, like the Super Bowl, that bucks the trend and is a bit archaic compared to how tickets are distributed for most events. Although there is an e-ticket option for the Final Four, most March Madness tickets are distributed as a paper block, which are physically mailed out. If you are buying online, you will want to buy from a seller with a local pickup option, or buy through a secondary ticket site with a service center. The service center may be a hotel ballroom adjacent to the event venue, for instance. 

All of the major reputable ticket sellers will backstop the ticket guarantee, so if for any reason your tickets don't work, you can get your money back.

YF: There are a number of ways for fans to re-sell tickets if their teams fall out of the tournament. What should fans keep in mind?

SG:  Fans that bought tickets for multiple games only to have their teams lose may be tempted to unload those tickets on the way out of the venue. But it's unlikely you'll get a good value as professional ticket scalpers will be trying to play on your insecurity and the ability to cash out. You can bring them to last-minute fulfillment centers set up by secondary markets, like StubHub, TicketsNow, or PrimeSport, and you'll have a better chance of getting more for them.

YF: What are some common mistakes fans make buying these tickets?

SG: The most obvious one would be if you are planning on attending multiple games in a given venue, buy the full strip. There are so many different parties with access to tickets -- schools will have allotments for the whole thing, you can buy them first- or secondhand, and venues themselves will sell them individually -- so they get sliced up in lots of different ways. The bottom line is make sure you are buying tickets to ALL the games you want to see.

YF: Any other tips?

SG: Keep your eye on the Final Four. It's almost stunning how inexpensive it is. In Houston in 2011, for instance, you could get tickets for under face value the day of. The supply and demand picture changes very quickly depending on who wins and who loses. Fans should be cognizant of that, whether they are a fan of a stalwart team or an underdog; they should be aware of what's going on because it can cause price fluctuations.