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A Closer Look at Historical Men's Hoops Attendance

Brian: I alluded to this earlier today in the comments section from yesterday's post. Using the NCAA's website, here's a closer look at Boston College men's hoop attendance going back to 1992-1993.

Year G Att. Avg. DI Rank % Filled Prev. Record
2008-09 19 105,418 5,548 99 64.47% 14-17
2007-08 19 109,789 5,778 99 67.14% 21-12
2006-07 18 124,486 6,916 81 80.36% 28-8
2005-06 16 115,409 7,213 72 83.81% 25-5
2004-05 17 109,495 6,440 82 74.84% 24-10
2003-04 16 83,894 5,243 NR 60.93% 19-12
2002-03 14 85,855 6,133 91 71.26% 20-12
2001-02 16 105,631 6,602 79 76.71% 27-5
2000-01 17 90,798 5,341 96 62.06% 11-19
1999-00 15 65,966 4,398 NR 51.10% 6-21
1998-99 14 54,012 3,858 NR 44.83% 15-16
1997-98 15 75,136 5,009 NR 58.20% 22-9
1996-97 13 89,021 6,848 75 79.57% 19-11
1995-96 15 98,144 6,543 83 76.03% 9-19
1994-95 12 88,910 7,409 68 86.09% 23-11
1993-94 15 110,818 7,388 65 85.85% 18-13
1992-93 17 104,072 6,122 85 71.14% 17-14

Or in colorful graph format:

First, know that Jeff and my perspective is from 2000 on, ever since we were Newton Campus freshmen. When we were freshmen, anyone who wanted student season tickets got season tickets. Men's hoops was basically off the radar in the consciousness of Superfans, as the Eagles were coming off 6-21 and 11-19 seasons.

So the million dollar question is why the drop off in attendance, particular from the 2005-2006 season to the present.

A good friend's dad - who put two kids through BC - wrote us today to say that he was convinced that the primary reason for the low turnout is that students can no longer get access to student tickets. We are told for the past three seasons, some students that want a full student ticket package aren't able to get the full season and instead half to settle for 1/2 season packages, or in some cases, no tickets at all. Now I have no doubt that students can find creative ways of getting tickets to games that they don't have tickets for, but don't discount the effect that these new, more exclusionary ticketing policies have on students in terms of losing interesting in support a team.

While I agree that the changes in student ticketing policies may be a factor, I don't think this tells the whole story. I think there are several factors at play in the declining per-game attendance numbers since 2005-2006.

Jeff might have been onto something when he suggested attendance lags behind the team's success by 1-2 years. While not 100% correlated, take a look at the previous year's records in the years where we had the highest % filled.

This seems to tell part of the story, but I'm still baffled by the 13% drop off between the 06-07 and 07-08 seasons. Perhaps the current season's team record has much, if not more, influence on attendance than the previous season's record. That year, the Eagles stumbled to a 14-17 finish, good for last place in the ACC. And at times, it felt like they were losing every ACC game they played (two 6 game losing streaks).

Some other considerations for the drop off in attendance:
  • The honeymoon is over. The allure of playing the Florida States, Virginias and Georgia Techs of the college basketball universe has worn off on Eagles fans. Since these teams have to travel greater distances to get to Chestnut Hill, you can count on less opposing team fans in the stand. In the Big East, I think you could have expected more of the opposing teams fans to show up to BC home games, especially local teams like Providence, UConn, Syracuse, St. John's and Seton Hall.
  • Ridiculous ACC start times. A Tuesday night 9pm start for a game against Florida State is a fairly tough sell for locals and even students. Checking the box score for that game, BC only reported 4,968 in attendance for that game. And FSU came into that game ranked in the Top 25. For 1 of 8 ACC games that we host every season, having less than 5,000 is pretty awful. Someone from the AD should be in the ACC's ear about putting an end to 9pm starts.
  • Too many varsity sports? Is the ratio of varsity sports to undergrads now out of whack? Consider we have the highest number of varsity sports in the ACC (31) and the third smallest undergraduate enrollment.
  • BC globalization. With the ever increasing national distribution of the BC alumni population, it seems like more and more grads are moving away from the greater Boston area after graduation. (Note that this is just my perception. I haven't looked at any alumni demographic trends. Most everyone I know from BC has left Boston and Jeff & I are only five years out from graduation.) Recent grads that stay local are a captive population of potential season ticket holders whose numbers that may be shrinking.
All valid reasons for the decline in per-game attendance. If hard-pressed to pick one, however, I would point to one that has previously gone unmentioned.

Take a look at the number of home games played over the past 17 years. In the last 3 seasons, we have played 18, 19 and 19 home games - the most number of home games over that span (and likely the highest number of home games in one year in program history). As the number of ACC home games is fixed every year, that means that those additional games are against the Bryants and SC-Upstates of Division I. Those aren't particularly interesting draws. Add to this the fact that we refuse to schedule some of our former Big East rivals like UConn, Georgetown and Syracuse in basketball. We certainly have a justifiable reason for not scheduling these teams, but this cuts down on the number of local, high-profile out of conference matchups the Eagles can schedule.

My fear is that with an increasing number of home games per season, is the Athletics Department even focused on the issue of average per-game attendance? More home games means more revenue potential, and at the end of the day, does it really matter how many fans we draw for a December 31 game against Sacred Heart?

After all, the AD and the department are judged on dollars and cents, not butts in seats.

Your turn. Having seen the historical data, what's the reason that the Eagles men's basketball per-game attendance has steadily decreased over the last 4 seasons?