The priciest tickets to college basketball’s most obscenely expensive game sold seven months ago during a charity auction benefiting cancer research.
Before anyone else at the V Foundation’s dinner gala could raise a numbered paddle to bid on the tickets, Michael Marks walked on stage unannounced with a microphone in one hand. The venture capitalist revealed that he was bidding $1 million in honor of his wife, Carole, “who just in the last 30 days was told that she was in remission from uterine cancer.”
“This is on a sports fan’s ultimate bucket list – to be in Cameron Indoor Stadium for Coach K’s last game,” V Foundation CEO Shane Jacobson told Yahoo Sports. “We hoped for a significant gift, but Michael Marks surprised everyone with his generosity.”
While only Marks is paying $250,000 a ticket to attend Krzyzewski’s curtain call, nobody else is getting into Saturday’s historic game for cheap. It’s not just the most expensive ticket in college basketball history. Ticket prices on the secondary market are nearly Super Bowl-esque.
As of Sunday, the average price of a ticket to Saturday’s game ranged from $7,498 on SeatGeek, to $6,336 on TickPick, to $5,392 on StubHub. None of the sites had nose-bleed seats available for less than $3,000 apiece.
To put that into context, consider that the average ticket price to see Tom Brady’s return to New England last October was just over $1,000. Or that the average ticket price to see Game 7 of the epic 2016 NBA Finals between the Warriors and Cavs was just over $2,000. Or that World Series-starved Cubs and Indians fans paid an average of about $2,300 per ticket to see Game 7 in Cleveland in 2016.
Even a Super Bowl ticket doesn’t cost that much more than splurging to see Duke vs. North Carolina. SeatGeek says the average ticket for this season’s matchup between the Rams and Bengals was $7,516. Until the past few years, the average Super Bowl ticket was often less than $5,000.
“We’re certainly seeing historic numbers for Coach K’s finale, not just for college basketball but for any event,” SeatGeek executive Chris Leyden told Yahoo Sports. “It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before for a college basketball game. People are paying Super Bowl level prices because they know it will be a special atmosphere.”
Demand for Krzyzewski’s final regular-season game at Duke has been high since June when the coaching icon announced his intent to retire after the 2021-22 season. Duke fans want to be in the building to honor a coach who has won 1,195 games, captured five national championships, sent dozens of players to the NBA and elevated his program into college basketball’s biggest brand.
What makes Saturday’s game more expensive than other coveted tickets over the years is that inventory is extremely limited. The seating capacity at Cameron Indoor Stadium is a cozy 9,314, one eighth as much as many NFL stadiums, one quarter as much as many Major League ballparks and one half as much as many NBA arenas.
“This is the equivalent of a major, major artist playing a show in a 200-person venue,” Leyden said. “There’s an extreme imbalance of supply and demand.”
While a smattering of tickets are for sale on the secondary market, many Duke season-ticket holders have so far been unwilling to part with theirs. Among those is Raleigh resident Barbara Freedman, who has been attending Duke games since 1976 — four years before Krzyzewski became the Blue Devils' head coach.
In the past, if she and her husband haven't been able to make it to a game, Freedman has usually given away their tickets to friends or family. Last week, Freedman told Yahoo Sports with a laugh, “I’m certainly not giving these tickets to anyone.”
Because she and her husband are in their mid-70s and have a tougher time accessing their seats than they once did, Freedman said there’s a chance they may not renew their season tickets next season. As a result, she hasn’t been tempted to sell her seats to what could be not just Krzyzewski’s last Duke home game but her own.
“If this really is our swan song as season-ticket holders, I’d hate to miss it,” she said.
The combination of a high-demand ticket, a bandbox venue and Duke alumni who aren’t eager to sell is a perfect storm for the ticket market. It doesn’t matter that the game could be a dud with Duke (25-4) a national title contender and North Carolina (21-8) trying to scrape its way into the NCAA tournament.
”We've seen some pretty astronomical prices for Duke-UNC these last several years, but prices for Coach K’s finale are on another level,” TickPick co-CEO Brett Goldberg said.
Though the spike in prices will inevitably keep average fans out, the upside has been that some charities have benefited.
An organization that provides housing for families of patients receiving treatment at Duke Cancer Institute is auctioning two tickets across from the Blue Devils' bench, just above the Cameron Crazies. Bidding had reached $12,530 as of late Sunday night.
Another auction, this one benefiting Duke men’s and women’s track and field, also had a pair of tickets for sale. Those sold late Sunday night for a total of $10,000.
Of course nothing is likely to top the $1 million bid that Marks placed last August during the V Foundation live auction gala. The donation on behalf of cancer research drew cheers and applause from the other attendees and a grateful embrace from Krzyzewski.
Said the Duke coach afterward, “It took my breath away.”