Joined: Mar 2004
I Root For:
RE: Attendence for Big East Home Games
At the risk of taking this thread off topic, attendance seems to be becoming an issue at quite a few places:
Quote:Where Have All the Fans Gone?
The ACC, Long a College Basketball Hotbed, Is Seeing Empty Seats; The Realignment Blues
By RACHEL BACHMAN
Wake Forest's home game against North Carolina on Jan. 31 drew its smallest crowd in the series since Joel Coliseum opened in 1989.
It was the kind of college-basketball game that used to guarantee a packed house.
When North Carolina took the court to play Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., one night last month, it marked the reunion of two storied conference rivals whose campuses are separated by a short drive across the spine of a basketball-crazy state.
Yet when the No. 5 Tar Heels arrived, they found a crowd nearly 2,000 short of capacity. Never mind that Wake is having an off year; it was the lowest turnout for that matchup since Joel Coliseum opened in 1989.
Across the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference this season, the story is much the same. Average home attendance at men's games, which has fallen in each of the past four seasons, is (as of Monday) tracking 13.5% below the final average from 2006.
At Duke, the famously raucous student fans known as "Cameron Crazies" aren't using their full ticket allotment this season. At Maryland, attendance at Comcast Center has dropped 24% in six years, prompting a student-led online campaign to encourage others to show up.
While national TV ratings on ESPN are steady, and still lead all major conferences, fewer people are attending games. Since 2004, the ACC's attendance, even including its popular annual tournament, has dropped by 14%, the largest for any of the six major conferences.
In a conference that specializes in basketball and plays host to the historic Duke-North Carolina blood feud, this is akin to saying football doesn't pack 'em in like it used to in Green Bay.
Dave Odom, a former Wake Forest coach who is a broadcast analyst for several networks, says the change has been exceptionally jarring to people who remember the conference's early days. "It's more noticeable because we know what it was like when it was at its peak," he said. "To see it anything less than that is disturbing and regrettable. It's sad to watch it."
John Swofford, the ACC commissioner, said in a statement that the conference's "proud and storied" basketball history has "captivated fans over five decades." In recent seasons, he said, the league has experienced "transition in coaches and membership including eight coaching changes in the past three years." Swofford said the ACC's conference tournament has the highest average attendance of any in the country. He added that TV viewership "remains strong and we are on more platforms than ever before." With Pittsburgh and Syracuse scheduled to join the conference by 2014, he said, "the future couldn't be brighter."
Nonetheless, how is it that the conference most synonymous with college basketball now plays to pockets of empty seats?
Nobody knows for sure. There are certainly some mediocre teams and unproven coaches in the ACC this season that may lack the drawing power of predecessors. But at a time when universities across the country are moving to maximize profits to maintain their athletic departments, it's worth taking a closer look.
Here are a few of the theories about the ACC's softening attendance and what, if anything, it means for the future:
Blame Conference Hopping
One of the most chilling explanations for the ACC and its member schools is that the decline is a self-inflicted wound: the result of the ACC's recent expansion. According to NCAA statistics, the ACC's average attendance peaked at 11,990 in 2004, the season before Miami and Virginia Tech joined the conference and two before Boston College did.
The addition of those teams meant that instead of playing each conference opponent at least twice per season, teams now don't play every opponent in the conference at home every year. Former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell said by playing less-familiar teams, "students don't have any connection."
Antawn Jamison, a veteran with the Cleveland Cavaliers who starred at North Carolina under legendary coach Dean Smith, said he's been surprised by the attendance decline.
"I remember going into Clemson and it being just as tough as going into Cameron Indoor Stadium," he said, adding that North Carolina State and Maryland had their idiosyncrasies, too. "We knew not only the players we had to go up against, but the crowd. That is a home-court advantage to have a sellout crowd pulling against you. It makes a difference."
A Charisma Deficit
While the current crop of ACC coaches has fine credentials, they're not exactly familiar faces. And to some, they lack the endearing quirks of their predecessors. Although he thinks they're capable coaches, Odom said the current ACC crop appears as though it "came out of a chemistry lab." Whereas NC State's late former coach Jim Valvano and ex-Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins were household names, former Duke star and Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill said, "I couldn't even tell you some of the coaches at some of these schools."
The 14-Step Commute
In a conference call this week, North Carolina coach Roy Williams put forth an interesting notion—one that is certainly not limited to college basketball: He said that with the proliferation of televised games, even the best man at his wedding has turned down an offer of game tickets in favor of his big screen.
This friend, Williams said, told him the crucial number in his mind was 14: the exact number of steps from his recliner to his bedroom. Chris Bevilacqua, the founder of a media-consulting group and architect of the Pac-12's nearly $3 billion TV-rights deal, pointed to another general culprit: the affordability of clearer, larger televisions. The at-home TV experience, he said, is better than ever.
Another broad problem: the younger the sports fan, the less they enjoy being in an arena where their smartphones can't get a signal. "People don't like to be out of touch," said Doug Perlman, founder and CEO of consulting firm Sports Media Advisors and a Duke graduate. "They want to be sharing the experience with their friends."
Lousier Teams, Period
Although No. 5 Duke and No. 8 North Carolina are once again having strong seasons, the ACC is just the fifth-best conference in the country, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy's rankings.
Write to Rachel Bachman at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared Feb. 15, 2012, on page D6 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Where Have All the Fans Gone?.
It sounds ridiculous to me, but the part about not having a signal in the arena being an important element is something Whit should keep in mind as we look at renovations.
(This post was last modified: 03-01-2012 02:42 PM by Bearhawkeye.)