Vivint Smart Home Arena was less than half filled for the inaugural Zions Bank Beehive Classic last December, and organizers promised to make adjustments.
They’ve gone from night to day with tipoff times and have significantly lowered ticket prices for student and upper-bowl seats. It may be difficult to gauge what factors drive higher attendance, whether it is those changes or having the Utah-BYU rivalry as the centerpiece of this year’s basketball event (followed by Utah State vs. Weber State). Regardless, the crowd for the Dec. 8 games undoubtedly will top the 7,729 of 2017.
Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment staged a news conference with the four head coaches Tuesday in what was believed to be the first such promotional event in the state in more than 30 years. Their appearances were tied to the initial ticket availability for 2018, another sign of organizers' innovations this year.
“The passion for basketball in Utah is unmatched, it really is,” said Weber State coach Randy Rahe.
The first Beehive Classic failed to reflect that interest level. Fans cited multiple reasons for staying away, notably the cost and the calendar, with students preparing for semester final exams. The date won’t change; administrators like the absence of a conflict with college football on that Saturday (although Weber State hopes to be playing in the FCS quarterfinals).
Pricing “absolutely” was a subject that organizers studied, arena president Jim Olson said. Lower-bowl tickets remain $60 for the two-game package, but student tickets were cut from $20 to $10 and upper-bowl seats went from $30 to $20.
In the second year of the three-year agreement among the four schools, the Utah-BYU rivalry takes a turn in the rotation. The Utes and Cougars will meet on a neutral court for the first time since the 2004 Mountain West tournament in Denver.
The arena will be “probably … pretty full,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “Having Utah on our schedule is exciting for our fans, and I think it’s exciting for Utah fans.”
“I'm guessing it's gonna be rockin' and rollin', as is the case with all those games, every time we play,” said Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak.
BYU has made regular appearances in downtown Salt Lake City in Rose's tenure, with considerable success. Having learned of the Cougars' 12-game winning streak in the arena, Krystkowiak said wryly, “It's gonna be tough. They've never lost here, and if I would have known that, we never would have played the game.”
Krystkowiak predicted “a pretty frenzied group of Utah fans” would show up. Arena management, the schools and potential television partners discussed the tipoff times and order of games. ESPN likely was the deciding factor in having Utah-BYU as the first game at noon; the contest will be carried by one of the ESPN networks, Krystkowiak said.
Utah State’s Craig Smith, the newcomer to the group, spoke of the state’s basketball tradition that also includes Division I schools Utah Valley and Southern Utah. Any consideration of expanding the Beehive Classic to include them would come after 2019.
2017 • Utah 77, Utah State 67; BYU 74, Weber State 68.
2018 • Dec. 8, Utah vs. BYU (noon), Utah State vs. Weber State (2:30 p.m.).
2019 • Utah vs. Weber State, BYU vs. Utah State.