23 March 2015

Tips for enjoying (and surviving) the BNP Paribas Open

View of a practice court with beautiful backdrop
Indian Wells was always on my list of must-do tennis tournaments, and circumstances allowed me to make a slightly late decision to head to the desert for the 2015 BNP Paribas Open. I was toying with the idea anyway, but Serena Williams' announcement that she was going to play this huge joint event for the first time since 2001 made it a no-brainer for me. I had to be there.

I go to a lot of tennis tournaments and have for a number of years, but this was my first trip to Indian Wells. I have to say it will debut pretty high on my list of fave tennis tourneys in terms of delivering what I need to enjoy live tennis. Here's why:

Getting there:
It's no big deal to have a bit of traffic to get in and out of any sporting event, or to walk amongst big crowds heading into a tournament site. But Indian Wells has so many parking areas and roads in and out that only once did I get stuck in a parking queue of any size (and that was leaving the site toward the end of the night after the Bryan Brothers had won).
Rafa Nadal practicing on Practice Court 1

In my 10 days at the tournament, I drove/rode in by noon each day (usually I got there by 10am when the gates opened) and the roads in and out were always manageable. This is so key - last year when I attended Miami it was such a struggle due to the lone road going into and out of Key Biscayne so everyone - players, fans, etc - has to sit in the same long queue of cars to get anywhere which can be frustrating. So there's a big point for IW.

Unless you're staying at one of the hotels on the shuttle route, you'll need a car to get to and from the site. I did read about some public transportation on local buses but never investigated. A friend and I rented a car for a few days, but that proved problematic in that she had media credentials so we couldn't enter the same gate (SIGH).  We tried to avoid her dropping me off at one gate and driving to hers by taking the hotel shuttle but that was a bust too. We saw many people walking to the bus at the Holiday Inn Express, so we parked there and jumped on. All good. But on the way back, the bus driver asked us for our room key so we had to get a ride back with a friend instead. I would have gladly paid for a shuttle but that is not an option here (in Miami you can use the hotel shuttles even if you aren't staying there, and everyone pays regardless). Car parking is $20 a day onsite unless you have a parking pass. I heard there are places to park for free then walk but I didn't have to do that this year.

A welcome sign for Serena Williams on the day of her comeback match

Grounds:
In a word, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden = class. It's clear a serious wad of cash has been spent developing the site and everything is just beautiful here, from the two big stadiums to the ample green spaces. The stunning desert backdrop and palm trees all over the grounds certainly add to the beauty of the site.

One of the big screen areas by the RumChata bar near the North Gate

The big screen area with lots of chairs and tables. There are 3 screens here
Other than the opening weekend when close to 50,000 people were on the grounds each day, there's so much space here it never felt uncomfortably crowded. It helps that there are two large, grassy areas with tables, a huge big screen space with 100-200 chairs as well as a few large seating areas with shade and TVs. Given the baking sun here it's essential to take breaks in some shade so I really appreciated all the options available. Tables in the shade by the bars were a hot commodity but during the week it was easy to grab a seat for a meal or a break from the sun.

Crowds:
Overall, the Indian Wells crowds were amongst the friendliest I've encountered. For the most part, they were engaged, friendly and present. I had seats up high, down low and everything in between and you always have people talking loudly, answering their phones, etc so that's just part of watching live matches.

Admittedly one of the reasons I never made it a priority to attend Indian Wells was due to the crowd's treatment of Serena and the Williams family in 2001 (not living in the US for 12 years also played a big part). I had always planned to go there after Venus and Serena retired, as I couldn't see the point of attending a joint event knowing they wouldn't be there.


I'll write about this in more detail later, but the crowd's welcome of Serena during her first match brought tears to my eyes. To be part of a standing ovation for one of my most favorite athletes ever was unlike any other experience. I've witnessed many crowds boo when withdrawals are announced, or during retirements (see Venus Williams vs Andrea Petkovic, Australian Open 2011). I also was in Stadium 1 earlier in the day of Serena's return, when boos were clearly heard near me when the MC made a reference to her comeback match that night. It was a tense wait as I sat in my seat waiting for the players, but they celebrated her return loudly and enthusiastically. I was proud.


On the negative side, I wasn't impressed that the stand control volunteers let people into their seats in the lower loge section during play. This was annoying whether you were in that section or up above (constant bodies in the way blocking the view). I understand movement in the upper loge and grandstand sections are not going to bother players, but they bother fans! It's not unlike this in other tournaments so I can deal with that. However, unlike any tourney I've been to, Indian Wells repeatedly let in night session ticket holders while the day session was still on (it ran late several times). This caused some disturbances as many stood around in the level between loge and upper loge/grandstand. Volunteers tried to get people to take any seat, but often they were not to be seen while people clogged up the lower areas and blocked the views of those of us sitting up high.

Food:
Indian Wells allows one to bring in food which is great. Every day I brought in enough food for the day and only twice had to get dinner onsite due to staying later. Trader Joe's was my go-to with lots of yummy salads, wraps and sushi to keep me going for 12 hours of tennis! There are plenty of food options onsite but none really impressed me much for the price. Stadium 2 has a Nobu but I don't like spending too much money to eat out in general and plus there was way too much tennis to watch so I wasn't going to eat in a restaurant anyway.

One of my favorite moments of the daily routine of getting into the site was a woman who checked bags upon our entry into the North Gate. She'd offer commentary about one's food - apples good, chips bad! She was funny. But do bring in what you can if you're money conscious or not willing to wait in line to buy a $12 salad.

Ice water and the OOP to start each day
A word on drinks and what you can/can't bring in. This was really inconsistent which is one of my biggest complaints about attending sporting events. I'm fine with rules but be consistent. The first day I attended was the second day of qualies so we were able to bring in water, coffee and fountain drinks from offsite. Then gradually we couldn't bring in any liquids from a non-sealed container. That meant my two bottles had to be empty (ice was okay tho), and if I had a soft drink it had to be unopened. This was kind of a pain, as it meant people had to dump out their water bottles (hello CA is in a drought!) or buy bottled water (pains me to see that). There were a few places to fill water onsite, and I get the concerns about people bringing alcohol on site but if people really want to bring it in they will find a way. Glass containers was always a no-no, but basically I came in each day with 1 aluminum bottle and 1 CamelBak bottle which I'd filled with ice at the motel. Bring in as much ice as you can - it's so hot you will need it!

Weather:
Unlike Jelena Jankovic, I am NOT a California girl. Born and bred in Iowa, I don't hate the sun but I prefer my temperatures to be a bit milder. I've always been sun sensitive so throw me into the desert and it was a bit of a struggle.

When I planned to attend 10 days of the BNP Paribas Open, I was worried about the heat. And it did bite me a few times despite all my efforts to stay cool. Here are some survival tips for trying to watch lots of live tennis while baking in the desert sun:
  • ICE. Freeze some water bottles or fill up your bottles in a motel, convenience store, etc. The more the better. If you're really hot during the match, put the icy bottle on the back of your neck, your feet and wrists to help cool down.
  • Umbrella. I actually used my brolly once for some light rain we had one afternoon, but I used it plenty to help block the sun. You will be popular with your neighbors if you put your umbrella up (don't block anyone's view of course) and help provide others with a little shade.
  • Sit on a towel - what a difference this makes! I didn't bring mine the first week and what a mistake that was. The seats/benches get HOT so this helps so much. It's also more comfortable (just don't leave it behind - I did once and was lucky it was still on my seat when I returned).
  • Soak a towel in water and place on your neck, feet etc. I know a lot of people borrow towels from their motels and do this. I had a small handkerchief that I drenched in water on and put it on my burning feet and arms a few times. If you want something longer-lasting, but a cooling towel in the tourney shop (they were sold out when I tried) for about $15. Or get your own (I clearly need to buy this one).
  • Sunscreen - apply often. I am rocking a California glow but I put sunscreen on 3-4 times a day. But please be sunsmart.
  • Hat - don't wear a sombrero (I have actually seen tennis fans wearing them in the stands!) but you will want a hat that covers your head and ears. Have you ever burnt the tops of your ears? Well, it hurts.
  • Water mister - I used to have a small Evian face spray that was handy in the heat, but thankfully there are two sets of three fans onsite blowing out water mists so these were very popular. These were amazing and the queue was never too long so hop in and out as much as you need to. 
  • Pain reliever - if you're starting to feel off, take a few Tylonel, etc to help with the headaches.
The misting water was a cool treat for fans
Despite all my due diligence, I still had some sunstroke symptoms. If you feel woozy, get out of the heat immediately. There are a few First Aid stations onsite and they are full of great, helpful people who want you to feel better. On the second Monday, I watched Serena beat Sloane then Rafa beat Donald Young. I was in the upper section of Stadium 1 and I was just baking during the 3-4 hours I was in my seat. I decided I needed a bit of relief after Rafa won so I went to the First Aid station, and was immediately given a cold towel for my neck, a bag of ice (which I put on my feet), Tylonel, cold water and Gatorade. Don't take a chance - I had sunstroke once at the Australian Open and felt like I might fall over. I went to First Aid and they made me sit for an hour as my pulse had been racing. It's not worth the risk so be safe. 

Watching Ana Ivanovic on Stadium 4
Seats:
Having been to all the slams and several other big tourneys, I truly feel like there is no bad seat in any tennis stadium once you've sat in the Promenade area of Arthur Ashe Stadium. So one of my day session tickets at IW was in the highest row on Stadium 1 and it was just fine. In fact it's great up there as you can enjoy the views of the entire tourney and keep an umbrella up without disturbing anyone.

In past years, there was a General Admission section in Stadium 1 but that has been changed now unfortunately. I never tried to sit there as I always had a stadium ticket, but that was quite unusual to have a GA section and unsurprisingly it filled up fast!

Stadiums 2-10
I admit Indian Wells was a bit confusing in terms of the other stadiums and reserved seats vs general admission. It wasn't just me - I heard a lot of people asking volunteers where they could sit, especially Stadium 2 (signs will help!) Stadiums 2 and 3 both feature some reserved seats so you can't sit in those even late at night when hardly anyone else is in the stadium. Stadiums 4-10 though are completely open and are great smaller courts which give you such close accessibility to all the action during matches. One of my favorite moments during my 10 days was the Anastasia Rodionova vs Yulia Putintseva final qualifying match on Stadium 8. I tweeted a lot of about this match and the lovely people over at The Tennis Island did a great recap. I always choose to sit behind the umpire and player chairs because you can really see what goes on. I love seeing top players, but my best memories (outside Serena's first match) featured players on the smaller stadiums. I love the more intimate crowds and being able to see the emotions and reactions of the players (both good and bad!)

Practice courts: 
If you attend Indian Wells, download the app which features a practice court schedule so you can help plan your day if you want to catch a specific player (tho like anywhere the schedule can change and does often). The courts here are great for watching practices and they even stream practice courts 1 and 2. The only issue with the courts is they block off access so there's limited walking areas but I think this helps with crowd flow. Two practice courts are fully inaccessible - 9 and 10 - and that's where Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova exclusively practiced. Other big stars practiced there too for some privacy. I know fans were bummed to not see Serena and Maria close up, but c'est la vie!

Player autographs/The Field:
Indian Wells is loved by players for its open spaces, and the large grassy area near the practice courts is one reason why. I'd long heard of this area and seen photos of players kicking the soccer ball around, etc.  The field is a great area to spot players warming up, relaxing and hiding from the sun and the gated area near it is the place to get photos of players and autographs. As a rule, I do not do autographs - it's fine it's just not my thing because tennis fans can lose all sense of manners as they push and jump trying to get selfies and autographs. But I did brave the nuttiness to get a Rafa hat signed for my tennis-loving mom (tho I did have to get a sweet young girl to assist me because people pushed in so much. Honestly). But if you really want to try for a selfie or get something signed, it's not always chaos by the fence. I saw many tame moments with players like Madison Keys, Grigor Dimitrov, Kevin Anderson, Jack Sock and more. But for the top players be prepared to wait, be stepped on etc by fans.

Thinking of attending Indian Wells next year? Tweet me or comment here with any thoughts or questions! But I wholeheartedly recommend the BNP Paribas Open as a must-do tennis tournament. Hope to go back someday!

39 comments:

  1. Hi there! I was just wondering, if I'm just able to attend one day for opening weekend, which do you suggest? Saturday or Sunday? I'd really love to see Federer play, but obviously don't know what day he'll be playing because Saturday and Sunday are both Round 2 for men's.

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    1. Hi sorry for a lately reply (not getting notifications). Yeah draws are hard b/c you won't know until it comes out what half Fed will be on. You need to do both days! :)

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  2. Thanks, very helpful. Question: On Monday and Tuesday of the second week (third round on Monday and Tuesday for men, third round on Monday and quarters on Tuesday for women), in your experience or knowledge how easy do you think it would be to go to the venue and buy same-day tickets right then and there? My wife and won't know until the last minute when we can do. I'd appreciate any guidance you can give us. Thanks.

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  3. Thanks, very helpful. Question: On Monday and Tuesday of the second week (third round on Monday and Tuesday for men, third round on Monday and quarters on Tuesday for women), in your experience or knowledge how easy do you think it would be to go to the venue and buy same-day tickets right then and there? My wife and won't know until the last minute when we can do. I'd appreciate any guidance you can give us. Thanks.

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    1. Oh I'm sorry I didn't get notification of your comment. There's always the option of Stubhub if tickets are sold out for any tournament. Hope you made it!

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  4. Just a couple questions. Why are the day tickets on opening weekend more expensive than the night ones? We are trying to take our son (a high school tennis player) on a Senior trip, but we have limited funds so we probably can't attend every session. Any suggestions on which sessions to attend--we will be there Wednesday through Sunday.

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    1. Sorry I just saw this comment. There are many more matches during the day than night sessions - I'd always suggest day over night sessions because you can see so much more including practices. Hope you had a great time!

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  5. Great overview. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

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  6. Heading to the desert 3/13-Sunday for our first time. Can't wait! We will be there Sunday and Monday. I am taking my 18yr old son who has stage 4 skin cancer. He is a tennis nut!! I spent $150-$250 per day on one match. Good seats I think. Wondering if this was worth it?? And I am really concerned about the heat now! Will my son be able to hold s small umbrella? And investing in all the tricks to stay cool for SURE. Dang it. He hates the sun now....

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    1. Hey Kerri late reply but I hope you had a wonderful time, and that the heat wasn't too awful! :)

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    2. Been there 2 Years in a row. Run a Year round Scottsdale tennis group. Just hydrate at least the day before and bring a Camelback type of BOTTLE that you can fill with ice at the hotel/gas station, a cooling towel like product, hat, umbrella, sunscreen, long sleeve shirt, sunscreen, sealed water bottles x2-3 pp (bigger the better reasonably), cool/breathing tennis clothes, food bc u can save $$. All in a standard backpack (security is fine with that). Have a blast.

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    3. Yes very good tips! I Also did the camelback/ice trick - usually brought it at least two bottles filled with ice. I was pleased with the amount of food I was allowed to bring in - pretty much hit Trader Joe's every day on my way to the site.

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  7. Hello, I want to fly out from Boston to the tournament for a few days with my wife. Do you recommend a certain town ( Palm Springs, Indian wells,?)close to the tournament to look for a mid-range hotel room?

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    1. I'm wondering the same thing! We're flying from Boston too. Small world We can't decide on how close we should be to the facility either.

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    2. So weird I posted a comment here last week which disappeared! Happy to help Bostonians!

      I stayed in two different motels - one was convenient (Rancho Mirage) and the other that was not (Palm Springs North). Rancho Mirage was great - took us 15-20 minutes to drive each morning and there's handy places to stop on the way if you want to buy food to take to the tourney (they do let you do this). Anywhere near CA-111 is handy.

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  8. Hi, I'll be there on sunday march 12. What do you recommend to buy? Ground pass? Loge? Prime loge? I want to see a nice match on Stadium 1 but also try to see other matchs on another courts.
    I would like to see Roger (if possible) or my countryman Del Potro.

    You go for the day or afternoon ticket?

    Thanks in advance. Have a nice week!

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    1. Hi there! I always suggest buying a stadium seat if you can afford it because then you have options. And I always suggest buying the best seat you can - when I went I was on a tight budget so I was in the upper section. With a stadium ticket you can go into any court so as long as Roger/Del Potro are scheduled that day you will be able to see them.

      It's really the luck of the draw when players are scheduled - when I go to tournaments I buy both day and night session to make sure I am covered. I have often sold tickets I decided I didn't need.

      I hope that helps!

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  9. Hi, thanks for this webpage. I am on a budget so is a ground pass ok for the day - will I see good tennis and have access to any GA seat? It sounds like you recommend a seat during night session. If I do a ground pass, it looks like it will be assigned to one particular stadium. Is that right? Thanks for any tips!

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    1. Hi there! Glad to help!

      Yes a grounds pass is still so worth it during the day - you can access any stadium except stadium 1. They used to have a GA section in the main stadium but looks like that changed. You can access any non-reserved seating in any other stadium tho. Grounds passes are such good value and I always go in as soon as the grounds open to get a good seat on certain courts and watch practices!

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  10. So I've got a loge day ticket in stadium 1 for the first weekend. Will this also work like a grounds pass for the evening sessions? Will I be able to get into other matches in 2 or 3 with this ticket? Or will I also have to buy a grounds pass so I can see some matches at night?

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  11. Hi Jennifer - you will be able to stay on the grounds at night if you're on a day ticket but you would only be able to go into stadiums 2-9 at night in areas designated for grounds pass. There is no separate grounds pass for the night.

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    1. I have a prime loge night ticket on 1st weekend. Does this allow me to have ground pass access during day? Also one weekdays, I have a prime log day ticket. Does this allow me to have a ground pass access during day, as well. Also are the areas designated for ground pass, so limited that it fills out quickly? I am wondering how much time in advance do I need to prepare to get to a court before it gets too crowded.

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    2. Hi there:

      Any evening ticket only allows you in once the gate opens for night session. It usually is 5 or 6pm depending when the session starts. You can't use that for anything during the day - check the gates open time on your ticket.

      When you have the loge day ticket, it serves as a grounds pass for that session too but only in non-reserved seats in other stadiums. My best tip is pick what court you most want to see matches on and get there early. It can be hard to get into certain courts midway through the day if a really anticipated match is on, etc. It really depends on the order of play as some on grounds passes will get in the front rows as soon as they get into the grounds to get a good seat.

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  12. Do you know of any websites that bring tennis fans together to meet and attend tennis tournaments like Indian Wells?

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    1. Hi - sorry I don't know of any such website. I tend to meet up with people via Twitter as there is a great tennis community there!

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  13. Thank you for writing the article for nubies going to a tennis tourament and it happened to be Indian Wells tennis tourament.You covered everything I was wanting to know so just wanted to thank you. I tryied to twitter you twice before writing here as I wasn't sure if either one went to you.

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    1. Hi Donna! Well you are so welcome - I don't recall seeing a tweet but certainly tweet me at @stephintheus or ask me here if you have any other questions at all!

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    2. I will be attending Paribas March 9th and 10th. I believe I will be in a suite. This being my first time, I am not sure what to wear. Is a sundress and sweater ok?

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    3. Hi there! I haven't been in a tennis suite there but I'm sure a sundress would be fine. It will probably be nice and air conditioned in there so a sweater/cardigan is probably a good met. Have fun!

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  14. What time do you suggest arriving for the day session? Planning to be there Saturday and Sunday of opening weekend. In terms of parking and avoiding large crowds as they let people in? Thanks!

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    1. Hi Tina - I'm a total nerd, so I always get onsite when the gates open. I don't like to miss the early part of the day when players are practicing, and then if I want a good seat on a certain court I go right there. When I went to IW in 2015 my friend had a very good parking spot right up front so we usually had no issue getting right into the site. It really depends what entrance you can use in terms of crowds/traffic. I was spoiled in 2015 as my friends had media credentials or Vip parking!

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  15. Hi there, when bringing in food, are you allowed to bring in the frozen freeze pacs to keep the food cold? Plan on keeping it in a shoulder nap-sack type bag that they sell there.

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    1. Hi there - I'd think you would be fine with ice packs. They were not fussy with food being brought in and you can bring ice in for drinks. Just no water (tho clearly ice melts on your way to the tennis!).

      I had a canvas tote bag every day and had all sorts of food it in with out issues. Good luck! :)

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  16. This message is for Monica Puig from a Puerto Rican fan: "Hola Monica! Soy de Puerto Rico y voy a estar el martes en la tarde despues de las 3pm - para saludarte si aun te encuentras en Indian Wells. Dime donde nos encontramos! Un abrazo!

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  17. Do they offer packages for the middle weekend? We did the Labor day weekend package at the US OPEN last year and it was great. Wondering if something similar is available at IW and if you knew what package pricing approx would be per say a Loge seat.

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    1. I don't know about packages - I have only done single tickets for IW - their website probably has that info. http://www.bnpparibasopen.com

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  18. Hi Steph,

    Great Info. Thanks!

    Since you went all 10 days, i assume you bought the series ticket. Do they issue you one ticket for the whole tournament, or one for each of the days/sessions?

    Just asking because in case they hand out individual ones, i might want to give a couple to a friend. Thanks

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    1. Hi there - glad to help! I did not buy the full package when I went to IW but I have never attended a tourney that didn't issue individual tickets for each session regardless whether you bought 1 or all. I usually do what you do anyway and either sell some I don't need or loan them out. I've had full tourney packages for Cincy and Miami and each time got a whole bunch of tickets not just one. Hope that helps!

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