Some may question Iowa basketball fans’ loyalty for not filling up Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season. None of the games have reached 80 percent capacity, and only a few marketable Big Ten home games remain on the schedule.
But in response to a recent Gazette article about low fan attendance, several Iowa fans e-mailed me with responses about why they do or don’t go to games and provided unsolicited comments about how to increase attendance. Here’s a sampling of their responses:
One fan, who goes to about six games a year and attended the first game at CHA in 1983, said the style of offense is one reason the team struggles at the gate.
“I have twin sophomores at Iowa, both played sports and love basketball,” he wrote. “We purchased student tickets for them as freshmen, and they went to one game. Their reaction was watching Todd Lickliter with his head in his hands from behind the band is not what they were looking for. They want to get down by the court and yell their asses off, but Carver Hawkeye hardly warrants that activity. Maybe with only 8-10,000 showing up, they can restructure the seating and allow the students to get down on the floor on the opposite side of the floor from the benches. Of course some donors are going to have to move a little bit, but at least there will be some spark in the building! I stand and yell from our 39th row seats and the people around us seem to get a little peeved. Thought we were FANS!”
One Cedar Rapids fan, who previously bought season tickets along with his father, now has a son at UI who has a season ticket. The fan bought a partial ticket package for himself but said sloppy play, a mediocre non-conference home schedule (outside of Iowa State and UNI) and ticket prices are viable reasons for staying away from CHA.
“I make good money and could pay for a couple of season tickets if desired but both football and basketball prices have pushed me out,” he wrote. “I know people still buy football tix and we believe it is because the team is more successful in general. Football is more of an event, an all day social gathering and basketball isn’t treated that way. Basketball is essentially about the game.”
Another reader would like The Gazette to write a trend story to compare Iowa’s attendance with schools within the state and the rest of college basketball.
“Maybe, over the past decade, we have created our own destiny with some major strategical errors,” he wrote.
Others railed on the Big Ten Network, Lickliter’s personality and coaching style and both sides of recruiting. Some responses were a little over the top. But it’s obvious from the e-mails that people still are passionate about Iowa basketball, even if they’re not going to the games. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t write letters or e-mails.
The question for everyone connected to the basketball program is how do you fill the arena again? In 2001, Iowa sold out every game. Now, it’s likely the arena doesn’t hit 66 percent capacity this season. Team success and style of play are part of it, but not all of it.
The best way to solve any problem is to admit a problem exists. Once that realization takes place, then a person or organization can move forward to correct it. Here are a few ideas for Iowa officials to consider in bringing back the fans:
1. Fall on the ticket sword. Cut some upper-bowl tickets to $5 a pop. Set up a booth at Coral Ridge Mall with giveaways, Herky and promotions. For 1-2 years, devalue the ticket to make it up 5 years down the road. An empty seat doesn’t cheer, it only echoes.
2. Turn the event into a minor-league baseball environment. Sorry, purists, but most people want more than the game for $27 a ticket. At home people can watch the game for free in their easy chair with their favorite beverage. At the arena you get concessions and go to your seat. Atmosphere is worth 80 percent of the ticket, that’s why people tailgate in Kansas City in 100-degree August heat and 20-degree December cold. Right now the arena has little atmosphere. It needs dizzy bat races, half-court shots and student dancing during TV timeouts. Maybe poke fun at the horrid weather and work with a snow blower company for January giveaways.
3. Concessions and pep band. It’s possible CHA has the worst concessions in the Big Ten, possibly in major Division I hoops. Many high schools have better concessions. The pep band doesn’t really inspire anyone outside of the fight song or the Star-Spangled Banner. It might need a combination of infused rock or rap music to keep the arena jumping. Make the concourse a pre-game destination rather than a path to a seat.
4. Get the students there. Rinse, repeat. Do whatever it takes. It’s a good step to have two freebie games this year. Make sure bus schedules go by the dorms. Walk into the lobbies and take them there. Give away T-shirts upon arrival. Buy them pizza. Anything to get them there. In 5 years, when they’re making a few bucks in the real world, they’ll either be buying or ignoring season tickets.
5. TV. It cannot be overstated how the Big Ten Network’s squabble with Mediacom affected attendance last year. In a transitional year with little on-court success, fans needed to relate to a new coach and the team. Instead, few people watched any games. Fans moved on and became uninterested with the program. This year, despite the agreement between the BTN and Mediacom, very few early-season games were televised. Instead, they were streamed live on the BTN’s Web site for people without Mediacom’s Connections channel. It’s difficult to lounge around on a couch and watch games on a laptop, especially if you work on one for a living. Get every game on television where everyone in the state, or at least Eastern Iowa, can see it.
There are many more reasons people don’t go. The economy tops the list. Weather, team performance, game environment, driving distance, children’s activities, tomorrow’s test … all of them are valid excuses. Blaming ex-coach Steve Alford and former player and convict Pierre Pierce are not. They’re done. It’s time to move on.
But it’s obvious that everyone who has a stake in Iowa basketball’s on-court and financial success needs to face reality. This is a program that no longer can sell itself just because it reads “Iowa” on the jersey. It competes with the movies, minor-league hockey, the neighborhood bar and the local restaurant for entertainment dollars. If it’s too expensive, boring, too far on a week night or, most importantly, no fun, then people will stay home. Can you blame them?