Tuesday, May 19, 2009

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.

YearGAtt.Avg.DI Rank% FilledPrev. Record

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?


BCMike said...

if you look at the timeline, it's just been typical BC support--I hate to say it--when the team is good, ranked high, has a chance to make some noise on a national level, the butts are in the seats. You can see the Troy Bell years, the Cookie Monster and Duds years...and then the stinker that was two years ago put us last in the ACC.

My guess is ticket renewals weren't terribly high the season following finishing last in the ACC. If they do well this next year, expect the tickets to do well in 10-11 when all of the talent is in it's senior year and we're nationally ranked.

Claver2010 said...

How about the constant rise of the price of student tickets? On EI someone had a chart and we had the most expensive student tickets in the ACC and one of the most expensive in the country. In my three years so far football season ticket prices for students have gone up 33% and hockey and basketball have gone up 38%. For a student to be a "true Superfan" is truly very expensive. I calculated how much I spent Matt Ryan's senior year (my sophomore year) and it was almost $700. I have no problem spending that as a real sports fan -but I think we can all see why others wouldn't.

conlonc said...

While there is some correlation, there are still just as many 19+ win seasons with under 70% attendance as there are 19+ wins with over 80%. And there are still only 3 seasons that topped 7,000 average. All in all the support is underwhelming across the board. Any team that wins 21+ games should not have to settle for 75% attendance (average of those 7 seasons).

The other question remains whether the numbers represent turnstlyes (as Alumni does) or tickets sold. While I had the reported number wrong for FSU this past season (exaggeration), I still contend it was far less than 58% filled...and I was not the only one to bring that up on EA.

Further evidence includes 4197 listed for CCSU, 3267 listed for Bryant, 4283 listed for Loyola...anyone who saw film or photos of these games will realize that those numbers are not accurate - judge for yourself.

While I applaud you guys trying to come up with reasons why the support is lacking, the factors seem too numerous to pin down the exact reasons why it lags every season. If it's not one thing, it's another. The economy, the change from the big east and lack of interest in ACC opponents, the lack of quality OOC opponents, the game times, the lack of passion from Al, the lack of top recruits, the weather, the burden of 19 games, I can see them on TV more easily, kids, price, DBS...I hear so many excuses from fans - none of which seem anything more than just that - excuses.

So my final answer is that each person who does not support the team has their own reasons which can vary from season to season, but overall always exist and keep the attendance numbers far lower than our team deserves.

Conte_Crazy said...

I'd just like to comment on one thing you said in the post:

I doubt we're really pushing for a series with UConn, but I'm pretty sure Calhoun is on record as saying he would never play BC by choice while he was coach. I also may have heard similar from Boeheim, but less sure of that one.

Joe Bags said...

I think bullets 1 & 4 are the number one reason why attendance is struggling.

The move to the ACC means fewer visiting fans in Conte. Credit where it's due, most of the ACC schools travel better to Conte than I expected them to, but it's not the same as having UConn, SU, 'Nova and other northeast schools with a strong alumni presence in Boston on the schedule. Those opponents fan bases were good for 2K tickets a game on their own back in the day.

I think BC globalization does not get enough pub, and it is a very real phenomenon. To put it in perspective, I have more friends from BC living in Louisville, KY than I do here in Boston. This was not the case my first 2-3 years out of BC, but people gradually moved away, mostly for grad school, and they never come back. Alumni association events I've attended in NY and Chicago are better attended than those the Boston chapter runs. A school like Syracuse likely faces similar problems, but SU compensates with a strong local following. This is not the culture in Boston, where pro sports are the big ticket in town.

Brian said...

Joe Bags - I was in agreement with you 100% until you threw in the Boston pro sports argument.

Thinking about this further, my opinion is that this "Boston is a pro sports town" excuse is really just a side effect of this BC globalization thing.

My theory:
1) Less BC alumni are staying in Boston post graduation ...
2) That means less alumni are becoming season ticket holders for hoops and hockey (football is a different beast because there are so many fewer games, and we play on weekends when out of town alums can travel).
3) We look to our Boston neighbors and non-BC alum to fill that void in season ticket sales and attendance
4) Our neighbors don't show up, we blame the popularity of Boston pro sports

We simply can't count on locals not affiliated with BC to fill the stands. And besides, Boston has always been crazy about the Sox/Pats/Cs/Bruins. What really has changed? Even given those teams recent success, while this "Boston pro sports" thing might be a factor, I think it's vastly overstated as a major reason for decreasing attendance.

Ben said...

just for fun - if you run a regression on the data in the table above (% filled as the y var and di rank and prior years winning % as the x), the level of correlation is high. r squared of .935. that suggests those two variables alone might account for a lot of the problem. play good teams and win, and they will come.