Nevada basketball attendance down 20 percent |

Nevada basketball attendance down 20 percent

RENO – Stung by a sour economy and some poorly timed winter storms, attendance at Nevada basketball games has dropped about 20 percent from a year ago to its lowest level in more than a decade.

Over the team’s first 11 games this season, an average of 5,616 fans have attended Wolf Pack games at the Lawlor Events Center. That’s down sharply from 6,953 fans per game last season and the high-water mark of 8,903 fans per game three years ago.

The last time the average was as low as this season was 4,379 in 1998-99.

Nevada athletic director Cary Groth said it’s to be expected given the recession.

“I’ve sat through a lot of meetings in this community where they say everybody is down about 40 percent,” Groth said.

“That seems to be the key number. The good thing is we’re not at 40 percent. If we were at 40 percent, we would be in trouble. Some people just can’t afford to come.”

Nevada isn’t alone in the battle to try to at least stabilize attendance with the sagging economy. Attendance at other schools in the Western Athletic Conference this season has fallen by about 6 percent from last year, with five schools suffering decreases in attendance (Nevada, Utah State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Boise State).

The Wolf Pack still ranks third in the WAC and among the top 100 teams in the country in average attendance after having the 79th-best attendance among 345 Division I schools last year.

But the bad economy, poorly timed blizzards on game nights and a lethargic student section have combined to drop attendance to its lowest reported mark since the 1998-99 season.

“I think we can make a lot of excuses, but the bottom line is that it becomes expensive to people who are on a finite budget that has been reduced,” Groth said. “People have to make choices and if they have to make a choice between child care and Wolf Pack athletics, that’s a no-brainer.”

The Wolf Pack’s season-ticket base fell by more than 15 percent heading into the season from 7,116 season-ticket holders to 6,103.

Groth said she isn’t disappointed with attendance figures overall but is bothered by the student turnout. The Wolf Pack reserves about 1,300 free tickets for students every game, but has handed out only 522 per game this season – roughly 3 percent of the school’s student population.

“That’s disappointing,” Groth said. “I think that comes from the student leadership and Blue Crew and getting them a little more actively involved and helping us. They’re the ones who really push the tickets. Those are free. There’s really no excuse.”

Jerry Cail, the Wolf Pack’s director of sales and fan relations, said the Wolf Pack could increase the student turnout if the team’s players took a more active role on campus.

“I think one of the big things is increasing our players’ relationship with the student population,” Cail said. “We need our players out there interacting with students and making them feel like they’re part of the program and making them feel like they can have an effect on the team. If we can build up that relationship, I think it would go a long way toward increasing the student turnout.”

The fall in attendance at men’s basketball games is a bad sign for the entire athletic department. The basketball team is the only Wolf Pack program to turn a profit in each of the past two seasons, earning a net revenue of about $4.3 million.

“Men’s basketball drives the revenue for this program right now,” Groth said. “Potentially football can do that. When you’re only at a little over 60 percent capacity in football versus 80 percent capacity at Lawlor (in recent years), you have a lot of room to grow and you have a lot more seats and a lot more opportunities.”

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