Three More Thoughts: Digging Deeper With the NCAA Annual Attendance ReportPosted by BHayes on August 16th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.
The NCAA released attendance information from the 2012-13 season this week, with findings ranging from the very interesting — how about those Creighton Bluejays! — to the entirely irrelevant – I don’t think anyone was wondering how many fans came out to watch Fairmont State last season. But amid all the triviality were a few important nuggets. Yahoo.com came up with a few interesting tidbits from the data earlier in the week, but here are three more observations worth noting.
- Who said the SEC only paid attention to football? The 23,000 that packed Rupp Arena on a nightly basis last season certainly helped the conference’s cause, but six other SEC programs ranked in the top 40 nationally in average attendance – a total that only the Big Ten (12 teams) could top. Furthermore, the conference placed third nationally in overall average attendance — and this despite seeing that number drop over 900 fans a game from its 2011-12 level. Only the WAC, decimated by the departures of Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State, saw a sharper drop in ticket sales last year. The SEC may be more guilty of the “there are 10,000 fans here but the arena is still only half full” phenomenon than any other league – a trick that isn’t exactly an atmosphere-maker – but in what was a far cry from a banner year for the conference, the overall attendance figures both surprise and impress. There is sport after January down south after all!
- Let’s be careful not to make a direct correlation between average attendance figures and overall program success, or even fan interest. The easiest way to prove this point is to take a look at the program that finished 47th nationally in average attendance. Duke may be behind 46 teams on this list, but a consecutive home sellout streak dating back to 1990 should be enough to ease any concern with that metric. On the flip side, there are a number of teams with pretty solid average attendance figures, but also with half-empty arenas and relatively disinterested fan bases. Among teams in the top 40 that fit this bill are Tennessee (#8), Arkansas (#20), Texas (#32) and Nebraska (#38). It’s always better to have more fans than less, but program expectations, arena size, and athletic department budget (gasp!) should all be considered in conjunction with this raw data.
- Most of the names at the top of the average attendance list (Kentucky, Syracuse, Louisville, etc.) fail to surprise, so why don’t we note the programs whose locales in this ordering does register on the shock meter. For starters, just check out Creighton at #5. They may be Big East-bound, but for a Missouri Valley Conference team to outdraw every team in the country, save four, is a remarkable achievement. Think Greg McDermott might mention that fact to a recruit or two? Sticking in the Valley, 2013 Final Four darling Wichita State makes the top 40 of the list with an average attendance figure of 10,302. The more impressive number for the Shockers is 203; that was the average number of empty seats in Charles Koch Arena last season, a fact that goes a long ways towards explaining the significant homecourt edge Gregg Marshall’s squad enjoys. Outside of the Valley, non-BCS schools that show well on this list include First Four hosts Dayton (backing up the reputation that earned them those first round games) at #26, UTEP at #52 (someone explain that one to me) and Utah State at #56.
Bonus, meaningless observation: How is Grinnell just 19th in Division III in attendance?! With all the threes being hoisted at Darby Gymnasium, you shouldn’t even need the presence of the 138-point man to fill the 1,250 seat facility (they averaged only 938 fans per game). I would call out the people of Grinnell, but this attendance shortage is the fault of college basketball fans everywhere. I am disappointed in all of us.