The University of Utah’s Jon M. Huntsman Center has a basketball seating capacity of 15,000, making it the largest arena in the Pac-12.
That’s about to change, drastically.
Beginning next season, the upper bowl of the Huntsman Center will be curtained off, an athletic department spokesman told The Salt Lake Tribune. The new basketball seating capacity is set at 8,500, but athletic department officials would consider opening the upper bowl if a high-profile opponent and/or ticket demand called for such a move. If the upper bowl were to open for a game, those seats will be sold as general admission.
A seating capacity of 8,500 would make the Huntsman Center the second-smallest in the Pac-12 behind Stanford’s Maples Pavilion (7,233).
“It starts with a commitment to basketball and offering a competitive advantage to our team,” Scott Kull, Utah’s deputy athletic director for external operations, said. “This has been discussed for years in an effort, again, to try and create the best atmosphere for athletes and coaches. There wasn’t one ‘aha’ moment.”
According to Kull, roughly 400 season-ticket accounts, equalling 1,412 tickets, will be affected by the upper bowl closing. Those account holders were mailed a letter beginning Tuesday alerting them to the changes. An email echoing the letter was slated to be sent out Friday.
Those affected will have the option to move down to the lower bowl between rows 25-31 at the same upper bowl price they were paying ($120). Current season-ticket holders between rows 25-31 can also renew for next season for the same $120.
Kull noted that if somebody moving from the upper bowl to the lower bowl wants a closer seat than rows 25-31, they will have to pay the price difference, plus the applicable scholarship-seating donation, aka a mandatory Crimson Club fee.
The genesis for chopping 43% of the seats from the biggest building in the Pac-12 dates back to at least the 2016-17 season.
At the end of that season, the Utes hosted a first-round NIT game against Boise State. With the upper bowl closed and students on spring break, the Huntsman Center drew 4,097.
The atmosphere with just the lower bowl open drew positive reviews, including from Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak, in part because it produced a more intimate, more engaged atmosphere.
When Utah hosted first and second-round NIT games in 2018, the upper bowl was again closed as the Utes drew 3,452 vs. UC-Davis and 5,528 vs. LSU.
For what it’s worth, Krystkowiak did not make this decision, but he was consulted. This, after his team played Minnesota on Nov. 15 with the upper bowl closed.
“Larry has been a part of this decision, he was in favor of it,” Kull said. “His first reaction was certainly that it was interesting and it was something we should pursue. He wants what’s going to be a competitive advantage.”
The question does beg, if Utah had more success in recent years and was drawing better, would the school be lowering capacity?
For the past seven seasons, Utah has been second in the Pac-12 to Arizona in average home attendance. In all seven seasons, the Utes have drawn at least 10,311 fans per game, but that number is based on tickets sold, not tickets scanned to get in the Huntsman Center.
“It would depend on what we were scanning,” Kull said. “We haven’t scanned above 8,500 in a while. I think it would really depend on that, and it would be really hard to make that decision.”
Utes gymnastics, annually the Huntsman Center’s biggest draw, will not be affected. Over four home meets in 2019-20, the Red Rocks drew an average of 15,273, good for a school record and the No. 1 women’s gymnastics attendance average in the nation. Three of the four home meets were sellouts, while the attendance title was the program’s 36th all-time.
UTAH MEN’S BASKETBALL ATTENDANCE
Averages based on tickets sold
2019-20: 10,561, 14 games
2018-19: 11,067, 15 games
2017-18: 11,710, 17 games
2016-17: 12,051, 18 games
2015-16: 12,998, 17 games
2014-15: 12,101, 17 games
2013-14: 10,311, 20 games
2012-13: 8,611, 18 games
2011-12: 8,394, 15 games (first year in Pac-12, Larry Krystkowiak’s first season)