5/3rd Arena has been rocking in the past two home games. UC hit the magic number of 13,176 during the blackout against Louisville and housed 11,316 for Senior Night against Marquette. But on the season Cincinnati still only averaged a home crowd of just 7,878. I know. As an attendance geek I’ve been tracking this all season. The good news about the figure is that the it is up from last year and is approaching numbers set previously while in the Big East:
- 2010-11: 7,344
- 2009-10: 8,076
- 2008-09: 7,818
- 2007-08: 8,534
- 2006-07: 8,831
The bad news is that Cincinnati is still middle of the pack in the Big East. The culprit? Well as you probably figured it’s the out of conference schedule. The Bearcats draw extremely well for Big East games. This season they averaged 10,907 posting two sell-outs (Syracuse and Louisville) and another in which UC broke the 13,000-mark. It’s clear that Cincinnati fans have no problem packing The Shoe when conference play roles around. But the biggest issue as I mentioned are games against non-conference opponents in which UC housed just 5,151 (39% capacity) during those 10* games. This is what pulls the numbers down when looking at attendance throughout the entire season especially when the Bearcats aren’t hosting the Crosstown Shootout which is an automatic sellout.
*Including hosting Oklahoma at US Bank Arena downtown which is labeled a ‘neutral site game’ but was essentially a UC home game.
There are a couple of solutions to the non-conference problem and I don’t think they involve simply adding a higher RPI opponent. Generally ‘better opponents’ and ‘higher attendance’ are positively correlated but only when one makes the jump from Chicago State to Indiana. Casual fans couldn’t care less whether the opponent was Arkansas Pine-Bluff or San Jose State. Playing SJSU would certainly help the much maligned RPI numbers and strength-of-schedule but from a ’brand name’ perspective they probably wouldn’t draw much more than APBU.
Despite the tight financial situation that the UC athletic department faces, Whit Babcock needs to work on bringing a marquee, non-Xavier opponent to 5/3 Arena and advertising the hell out of that game. Selling out The Shoe against an Indiana, Ohio State, Kentucky, or Illinois would do wonders for pulling up the non-conference attendance numbers. Even big name programs further away such as UCLA, Baylor, and Florida State would draw a crowd. Another option would be schedule more local MAC and Conference-USA teams. These teams do cost more than the Chicago States of the world but a home-and-home series would be cheaper and help the RPI/SOS at the same time. Marshall, while they didn’t live up to their potential from a RPI/SOS standpoint, did draw the most of the non-conference teams at 5/3rd Arena with 7,021 in attendance. It wouldn’t be a bad idea calling up the likes of Akron, Toledo, and Ohio to see if they want to set up a quick series.
The athletic department might also have to get creative promoting the non-conference games. Whit Babcock has shown time and time again that he will do what it takes to get butts in the seats. He was instrumental in packaging the Liberty Bowl football tickets with the home basketball tickets for the Seton Hall game. That is the main reason UC was able to draw over 13,000 for that contest and Whit will probably have to do something similar for next season. Don’t be surprised if you see Cincinnati home football tickets bundled with those to non-conference home basketball games. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea for the athletic department to target UC students to boost attendance. Whit could approach the campus’ Greek community and create Greek-week incentives for them to help fill out The Shoe.
I was deeply encouraged by the numbers UC fans posted this year at 5/3rd Arena. Averaging 10,907 for Big East play is a step in the right direction especially considering the Bearcats got a number of wins for the very reason that their 6th man was so intimidating. But Whit Babcock needs to address the problem of the non-conference schedule for the simple reason that fans don’t seem to want to attend those games. As the offseason approaches I’m sure this will be a top priority for his administration and I’m excited to see what kind of ideas they come up with.