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BYU’s men’s basketball attendance has decreased dramatically this season. Are fans losing interest? Or just the students?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU fans with a banner that was briefly displayed before the game as BYU hosts Utah State, NCAA basketball in Provo on Wednesday Dec. 5, 2018.

Provo • Assuming they won’t be selected to host a game in the National Invitation Tournament or a similar college basketball postseason game, the BYU Cougars will play their final game of the 2018-19 season on Saturday night against San Diego.

Of all the question marks surrounding this year’s team, one in particular has school officials a bit perplexed.

Where did all the fans go?

Attendance at BYU men’s basketball games this season has plummeted by nearly 2,500 fans per game. Barring an unexpected huge turnout for the 7 p.m. regular-season finale in which the Cougars can claim the No. 3 seed for the WCC tournament with a victory, BYU will not finish in the top 25 in NCAA Division I men’s basketball attendance for the first time since the 2006-07 season, when it was 30th.

The Cougars, who are 18-12 overall, 10-5 in the West Coast Conference and 12-3 at home, are averaging 11,882 fans per game. That ranks them 27th nationally. Last year, when they finished 13-3 at home, they drew an average of 14,320 fans, ranking 18th nationally.

What gives?

Coach Dave Rose surmised after a disappointing — and disappointed — crowd of just 11,484 watched BYU blow a 14-point lead and fall 77-71 to San Francisco in a crucial WCC contest that it was a combination of factors.

“You look at a situation where the weather is bad all over the country,” Rose said. “You can stay home and watch eight games on TV, or you can trudge out into the weather and watch one game. At this time of year especially, people are saturated with college basketball, and you can get it really easily. You can get it when you are snow skiing, on a lift. You just look at the screen on your phone. People like to multi-task now. They can watch the game anywhere they go. I think that’s part of it.”

ATTENDANCE SLIDE

BYU’s men’s basketball average attendance in the last 10 years:


2018-19 • 11,882 (12-3) 27th nationally

2017-18 • 14,320 (13-3) 18th nationally

2016-17 • 14,476 (14-4) 14th nationally

2015-16 • 14,699 (16-2) 14th nationally

2014-15 • 16,125 (13-3) 9th nationally

2013-14 • 15,875 (14-1) 11th nationally

2012-13 • 15,986 (15-3) 13th nationally

2011-12 • 15,424 (13-3) 12th nationally

2010-11 • 18,714 (13-1) 6th nationally

2009-10 • 14,029 (15-1) 17th nationally

Source: BYU men’s basketball record book.

Note: 2010-11 was Jimmer Fredette’s senior season; 2011-12 was BYU’s first season in the WCC.

Based on figures provided by BYU’s ticket office, it appears the biggest attendance drop-off is in the student section — the ROC.

The school won’t divulge the exact number of season tickets sold per year, but says that over the past five years season ticket sales have increased for three seasons and decreased twice. The average fluctuation in season tickets sold over those past five years was just 33 per year.

“We are very fortunate to have incredible supportive fans and donors,” BYU associate athletic director Duff Tittle said. “The reality is that Cougar Nation has been incredibly consistent and supportive of our basketball program for a long, long time.”

It must be the students, then, because Tittle said the announced attendance reflects tickets sold, plus the actual students in attendance. At BYU, students purchase an all-sports pass at the beginning of the school year that allows them to attend all athletic competitions on campus that academic year.

Juniors Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws said they haven’t noticed a decreased interest this year among their peers. They still consider the home crowds a tangible asset.

“You can really feel the difference when you play at home,” Haws said. “That energy is wild and it really helps you have a lot of momentum. … When this place gets loud, it is unlike anything I have ever experienced.”

Added Childs: “This crowd is different than most places you go. It is one of the best home-court advantages in the country, and that is largely due to our crowd. Our student section is unbelievable in some of these games.”

Any blame on the late tipoff times is probably misplaced, Tittle said, noting that the average attendance for the two 9 p.m. games — vs. Saint Mary’s on Jan. 24 and Gonzaga on Jan. 31 — was 13,412. Average attendance for all the other games was 11,683. Of course, the Gaels and Zags were the two most high-profile opponents on the 2018-19 home schedule.

2018-19 NCAA MEN’S BASKETBALL ATTENDANCE

(Selected schools, through Thursday’s games)

1, Syracuse (21,600)

2, Kentucky (21,533)

3, North Carolina (19,579)

19, Arizona (13,710)

27, BYU (11,882)

31, Utah (10,929)

33, San Diego State (10,758)

77, Utah State (6,737)

85, Gonzaga (6,000)

Source: NCAA.org

The Gonzaga game drew 15,396. The second most-attended game was against Utah Valley (14,628) on Nov. 9. The Marriott Center’s current capacity is listed as 18,987.

BYU’s attendance slide isn’t unique. Men’s basketball attendance is down across the board nationally. Utah also has struggled to draw fans at the Huntsman Center this season.

Why should fans attend college basketball games when there are so many other entertainment options out there, and so many other ways to view the games?

Here’s Rose’s pitch: “I have been doing this for a long time, and my opinion is that the atmosphere is still the best. It is real and it is intense, and when people come and they feel it. It is a whole different experience, and I loved our crowd [at the San Francisco game]. I thought they were really involved, and the student section was great. … Senior Night [on Saturday] is our last game in here. Hopefully people will come and honor these two seniors [Luke Worthington and McKay Cannon].”

Tittle said that since the Marriott Center opened in 1971, BYU has been ranked in the top 25 in NCAA attendance in 43 of 47 years. Over the last five completed seasons, BYU has had the best attendance in the West four times, and was second (to Arizona last season), one time.

“We have been tracking ticket sales and attendance numbers for decades,” Tittle concluded. “Our regular survey data shows there are a lot of factors that affect attendance, such as the previous season’s [win-loss] record, strength of schedule, returning players, weather, ticket prices and availability of games on TV, etc.”

SAN DIEGO AT BYU

At the Marriott Center, Provo


Tipoff • Saturday, 7 p.m. MST

TV • BYUtv

Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

Records • BYU 10-5, 18-12; San Diego 7-8, 18-12

Series history • BYU leads 15-5

Last meeting • BYU 88, San Diego 82 OT (Feb. 14, 2019)

About the Toreros • They are coming off a 91-90 win in overtime at San Francisco in which Olin Carter III banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime and Isaiah Pineiro scored 28 points. … Pineiro scored all nine of their points in overtime after they had erased a 10-point deficit in the final 3:33 of regulation. Utah transfer Isaiah Wright added 24 points, one shy of his career high, and Carter III had 16. … Pineiro is averaging 19.5 points and 9.4 rebounds and has registered a double-double in eight of his last nine games.

About the Cougars • They haven’t played since falling 102-68 at No. 1 Gonzaga last Saturday and have lost two straight. … Luke Worthington and McKay Cannon will be honored during Senior Night festivities before the game. Worthington is averaging 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game and Cannon is averaging 3.4 points and 1.6 assists per game. … Junior F Yoeli Childs is averaging 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds, while junior G TJ Haws is averaging 17.8 points and 5.1 assists per game.

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