The 2014-2015 NCAA basketball attendance numbers are available, and—prepare to be shocked—Boston College ranks pretty low on the list, coming in at #115 in average attendance at 4,486 and #109 in total attendance at 76,268. This represents a slight increase over 2013-2014, when BC averaged 4,007 and totaled 52,094.
The various reasons for BC's weak attendance have been discussed here repeatedly through the years, and I'm not going to get into them here. But what I am going to do is take a dive into the attendance numbers and see how BC compares to schools that could be considered their "peers" in one way or another.
Whatever the opposite of a "hotbed" is, that's what Massachusetts is
Basketball attendance across the board is not great in Massachusetts, even for teams that have more recent success than BC. The Commonwealth's leader in average attendance is UMass at #113 overall. The Team of the People chimed in with a massive average of 4,553, #121 in overall attendance with 68,291 fans total. All joking about UMass aside, I think we'd all probably take UMass's record over the past few years in basketball, given that they've made the tournament a few times and have beaten BC repeatedly in the post-Al Skinner era. However, in spite of being UMass's #1 sport, their average basketball attendance is pretty much the same as ours. Judge from that what you will.
Beyond UMass and BC, the attendance picture is pretty ugly. Harvard and Northeastern, two teams that made the NCAA tournament this year, averaged 1,786 (#227) and 1,254 (#286) respectively, though obviously Harvard's average is hamstrung by playing in a tiny venue. Holy Cross averaged 1,370, #273 in the nation. BU averaged 519 fans per game, fifth-lowest in the nation (#347). MA's newest program, UMass-Lowell ,averaged 933 fans, good for 323rd.
Obviously, none of these programs are really a fair comparison to BC, because BC is the only "power conference" team in the state. However, the Massachusetts numbers show the challenge BC faces in drawing unless they stand out as a particularly good team; at every one of those schools other than UMass and Holy Cross, hockey attendance significantly outpaces basketball.
Compared to "peer" private schools, we're a mixed bag
One of the challenges in judging BC athletics in both on-field performance and attendance is accurately defining who our peers are and who we expect to either outperform or be on par with. I think most people would generally put Stanford and Northwestern in that category as academically renowned, private schools that are located in "pro sports towns." Interestingly, Stanford was one spot behind BC at #116, averaging 4,439 fans per game. Northwestern was ranked #72 at 6,914, a good distance ahead of Stanford and BC.
Another pretty reasonable comparison for BC is Miami, which is also a private school located in a pro town, and a school where basketball isn't really the focus; Miami averaged 5,111 fans per game, #103 in the nation. However, Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt are also located in cities, and both have very good attendance compared to peers—10,012 average for Pitt (#41) and 8,862 for Vandy (#51). Providence, a peer private institution, is also up there at #52 (8,614).
Compared to the rest of the ACC, BC is off the pace
This will come as no surprise, but BC is down at the bottom of the ACC in basketball attendance.
|12||North Carolina St.||20||308,726||15,436|
The ACC is 2nd in the nation in average attendance by conference at 11,368, trailing only the Big Ten, so obviously BC lags well behind that average.
Here's the full report from the NCAA for your viewing pleasure.
Obviously, it's going to take winning for BC to break out of the attendance doldrums, as has been said many times. In 2006, the year BC made the Sweet 16, the Eagles were ranked #72 nationally in attendance at 7,213 per game, dramatically outpacing anything else seen in Massachusetts or at peer institutions. (UMass was the closest in MA average that year at 4,902; Stanford averaged 5,438 and Northwestern was right around 5,000.) I'm not sure BC is going to be in the Sweet 16 anytime soon, but hopefully the new pieces Jim Christian added this offseason have laid the building blocks for a team that will become more competitive going forward.