Readers rant on Carver attendance; here are solutions

January 23, 2009

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?


Networks to feature Warner, Gatens

January 22, 2009

Be ready for all Kurt Warner all the time next week on the major sports television networks.

The NFL Network is broadcasting 55 hours of live coverage from Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa Bay. The network is airing both of Warner’s Super Bowl appearances, with his MVP effort against Tennessee as a member of the St. Louis Rams in 2000 running Monday night. The network is broadcasting New England’s upset of St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI on Tuesday.

If you need a Warner fix before the big one, here’s an NFL Network video of an interview featuring the Cedar Rapids native with former teammate and now network analyst Marshall Faulk.

The Big Ten Network will air a feature on Iowa freshman Matt Gatens, son of former Hawkeye Mike Gatens, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday as part of its Big Ten Tip-Off Show. Matt Gatens, an Iowa City native, leads Iowa in scoring at 10.9 points a game. The show leads into Iowa’s road game at Penn State, which begins at 5 p.m.

GPA trips up Tucker

January 21, 2009

Iowa freshman Anthony Tucker apparently passed all of his classes but did not meet the Big Ten’s minimum grade-point standard, Iowa associate athletics director Fred Mims said Wednesday.
“(It’s) just academic progression,” Mims said. “Credit hours were fine, just the qualitative part of it.
Mims declined to discuss Tucker’s grade-point-average.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Mims said. “I’m just going to say he didn’t meet the standards.”
Both the Big Ten and the University of Iowa require freshman student-athletes to carry at least a 1.65 grade-point-average to be eligible. The NCAA demands all students to have six credit hours entering the second semester but not require students to maintain a specific grade-point-average.
On Jan. 6, Tucker told reporters he had nothing to worry about academically.
“I passed all of my classes,” said Tucker, 19. “There was one class that I struggled with. It was kind of a struggle towards the end of the semester. We weren’t really sure. But I passed all of my classes.”
Mims said it’s possible for players to pass all their classes but not be eligible.
Tucker, a freshman who was the team’s leading scorer until Sunday, will not play the rest of the season. Mims said Tucker can practice with the team, just not participate.
Tucker appealed at least one of his grades, Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter said in a news release.
“Since the conclusion of the first semester, Anthony has been involved in an appeal process concerning his academic course work,” Lickliter said. “We have been informed that the appeal process has been completed and Anthony is not eligible, by Big Ten Conference standards, to compete during the spring semester.”
Mims said it is up to the student to appeal a grade.
“Any time a student feels they did better than what the coursework may be, they have a right to ask questions about that coursework,” Mims said.
Tucker (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) started eight of 14 games this year. He was one of Iowa’s top scorers early in the season, shooting nearly 44 percent from the field, including 42.7 from 3-point range.
Tucker scored a season-high 24 points against West Virginia in Las Vegas earlier this season. He averaged 10.4 points and three rebounds per game. He scored in double figures in eight games.
When asked Tuesday if all of his players were eligible, Lickliter said, “I don’t deal in hypotheticals at all, so we’re going to wait and get the officials. They’re eligible until classes start (Tuesday afternoon). I haven’t heard anybody so I’ll just wait to hear and I’ll know for sure at the end of the day.”
Tucker’s ineligibility ends a sordid season for the talented freshman. He acquired mononucleosis in November and struggled with fatigue. He was found unconscious outside an Iowa City bar on Dec. 7 and taken to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He had a blood-alcohol level of .194 and was charged two days later with public intoxication. He pleaded guilty to the charge Dec. 15.
Lickliter suspended Tucker for 11 days, then reinstated him Dec. 18. Tucker scored 12 points against Drake on Dec. 20. Tucker then did not play Dec. 27.

BTN to feature Iowa’s Gatens

January 21, 2009


‘Big Ten Tip-Off Show’ Explores Gatens’ Hawkeye Roots

There was never any doubt that Iowa freshman guard Matt Gatens would become a Hawkeye. He grew up in Iowa City as the son of a former Iowa basketball letterman and former Iowa cheerleader and the brother of two former Iowa student-athletes.  Gatens verbally committed to the Iowa program while in the ninth grade.  Now, Gatens leads the Hawkeyes in scoring and the Big Ten in three-point shooting. At 5:30 PM ET on Saturday afternoon, the Big Ten Tip-Off Show will air a feature on Gatens and his Hawkeye DNA.  The feature immediately precedes Iowa’s road game at Penn State. Tom Hamilton and Greg Kelser will have the call.

Tate out for a while

January 18, 2009

Iowa senior post Cyrus Tate will miss today’s game at Purdue after what is described as a setback in his return.

Tate suffered a sprained left ankle against Minnesota on Jan. 8. He practiced on Jan. 15, but his ankle grew more sore and swollen since that practice.

Tate, a 6-foot-8 co-captain, probably will miss Wednesday’s home game against Wisconsin and possibly Saturday’s game at Penn State.

Barta’s vote of confidence

January 16, 2009

Reporters and other media expected Iowa AD Gary Barta to talk about attendance and other issues affecting the Iowa men’s basketball program. While he addressed those issues roundly, he adamantly stood by second-year Coach Todd Lickliter, who is 11-6 this year.
“Overall I like the direction,” Barta said. “I like where we’re headed when I see the recruits that we’re bringing in. I like the way Todd goes about it. All the things that I said when we hired him, and I still feel exactly the same and I bring that up in conjunction with my concerns about attendance.”
Iowa has lost three of its last four, includinga 15-point mauling last Sunday at Michigan. But Barta remains optimistic the team is heading toward success.
“I look at the Ohio State game (a three-point road loss), I look at the BC game (a two-point loss at Boston, I look at the Minnesota game (a three-point loss), clearly in my opinion, we are a far more competitive team this year. We’re playing team basketball. The future looks bright.”

Injuries causing problems for Iowa

January 14, 2009

Injuries are starting to cause some serious problems for Iowa’s basketball team.

Point guard Jeff Peterson struggles to dribble and pass the basketball with his left hand. He has a broken bone in his left wrist and every time the ball slams into hand, it’s like a jolt of pain zaps into his arm.

Post Cyrus Tate played only eight minutes against Minnesota and didn’t play against Michigan after suffering a sprained left ankle.

Jake Kelly has suffered several injuries, from a sprained left thumb to a broken finger to a bone bruise in his leg. Anthony Tucker is still getting on the court following a bout with mononucleosis.

Iowa players are thrilled to have one week between games to get healthy and prepare for preseason Big Ten favorite Purdue on Sunday.

“I think this it’s important for us,” Peterson said. “We’ve got a few guys banged up with some pretty tough injuries so it will be important for us to rest but also reflect. We’ve still got a little bit of season left, so we’ve got to go ahead and to turn it around.”

“It’s coming at a really good time,” Kelly said. “Unfortunately we’re coming off two losses. We’re going to have to be a lot better to play Purdue. I think we can do it. We just need to rest up, get healthy and focus every day to get better.”

Iowa (11-6, 1-3 Big Ten) is coming off a 64-49 loss to Michigan on Sunday, which looks much better on paper than it did live. Iowa obviously missed Tate on both ends of the court.

“If I state a fact, I don’t want it to be an excuse,” Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter said. “But I think Cyrus helps us a little bit as far as rolling to the basket and giving us another threat down in there. 

“I’m not saying you throw Cyrus in there we’re winning this game, that’s not what I’m saying, but just offensively and efficiency, he helps out.”