The Cincinnati Bearcats basketball attendance for all home games at Fifth Third Arena is down 7.4% from the previous season. UC averaged 8,567 butts in the seats this past season, good for 53rd nationally, and down from 9,253 in 2012-13.
Seeing attendance on the decline despite a season in which Cincinnati won an AAC title and were ranked in the top 25 for several weeks is inauspicious enough. But it’s most discouraging considering the amount of progress UC had made in this area in the season prior. For years, Cincinnati’s attendance hovered around 7-8,000 per game. But UC, under the leadership of athletic director Whit Babcock and his zany sense of humor, was able to boost attendance by 15% in 2012-13.
- 2012-13: 9,253
- 2011-12: 8,069
- 2010-11: 7,093
- 2009-10: 8,076
- 2008-09: 7,818
It seemed like the problem of getting people to actually go to UC basketball games was a thing of the past or at least we were on the path to remedy the issue. But with attendance dropping off by over 7% last season, those concerns are creeping up again.
As we investigate a bit further, we reveal three insights.
1) It’s not the AAC.
The Bearcats played about the same amount of Top-25 conference teams during their last year in the Big East (4) as their first year in the AAC (3). Additionally, Cincinnati averaged 11,237 for conference home games in 2012-13 and 11,172 with three sellouts last season. A drop off, sure, but for all intents and purposes the attendance was the same. Plus UC never once sold out Fifth Third Arena during conference play in their last year in the Big East. So while the AAC takes some heat on the football side, attendance proves that Bearcats fans are generally willing to show up to see Cincinnati play the likes of UConn and Houston as they are Syracuse and Seton Hall.
2) The non-conference schedule was strong but the pits for the home crowd.
Cincinnati’s slate of non-conference games last season, with NCAA Tournament teams NC Central, NC State, Xavier, New Mexico, Pitt, and Nebraska, was markedly stronger than in 2012-13. The problem is that only NC Central, NC State, and Nebraska actually played the Bearcats in Fifth Third Arena. Compare that with a year prior when UC fans could watch Cincinnati host Alabama, New Mexico, and Wright State (a solid local draw) on their home floor. As a result, the Bearcats drew almost 1,000 less fans to non-conference games at Fifth Third Arena last season. Yikes!
If Cincinnati could get more of those appealing teams to play them at The Shoe, attendance on the whole would rise.
3) Fifth Third Arena is still a subpar facility.
It’s beating a dead horse at this point but the primary issue in my eyes with attendance is that the venue is just not that accommodating for a sellout crowd. UC can fit 10,000 comfortably in Fifth Third Arena but poor sight lines in numerous areas cause that to diminish exponentially after the five-figure mark. Luckily plans to bring capacity down while improving the overall in-game experience appear to be in the works. But until blueprints become an actual, tangible renovation, Cincinnati will struggle to consistently approach sellouts at home games.