Lagging attendance an issue for CU men’s basketball program

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Attendance at Coors Events Center for CU men’s basketball games has declined since 2012-13.

March calmness

Attendance has been on the decline at the Coors Events Center for the Colorado men’s basketball team. A look at the average attendance each season during head coach Tad Boyle’s seven-year tenure.

2010-11: 7,014

2011-12: 7,804

2012-13: 10,392*

2013-14: 9,635

2014-15: 9,135

2015-16: 8,540

2016-17: 7,733**

(*school record; **One game remaining in regular season)

All those empty seats at the Coors Events Center are becoming too glaring for the University of Colorado to ignore.

This week, CU athletic director Rick George conceded the dwindling attendance numbers witnessed at CU men’s basketball games this season has been a disappointment, and that it is a situation he will address with head coach Tad Boyle in addition to members of CU’s athletics and marketing departments over the spring and summer in hopes of reversing the trend.

“It’s become an issue,” George said. “I know we haven’t had the season that we’ve wanted to, but we have a good basketball program that deserves better support than it has been getting. That’s something we’re going to look at. Especially with all the good things our marketing department has done with the football program and all the success with attendance that we saw there this year. We have to build on that momentum.”

Though one home game still remains Saturday against Cal, with a home date in the NIT still not out of the question, the Buffs are on pace to have their lowest average attendance of the seven-season Boyle era since his first year in 2010-11.

The Coors Events Center became the place to be over the next two winters, with CU witnessing a program record for overall attendance (155,884) and average attendance (10,392) in 2012-13, one season after Boyle led CU to its first conference tournament championship.

Since that zenith, however, attendance numbers have steadily dropped. The men’s basketball team averaged 9,635 fans in 2013-14 and that figure fell to 9,135 in 2014-15. (It should be noted the 2014-15 total includes the sparsely-attended game against Gardner-Webb in the College Basketball Invitational witnessed by 1,280 truly devoted fans; without that game CU’s average attendance that year was 9,626, essentially identical to the previous season.)

However, another 20-plus win season and a return to the NCAA Tournament didn’t bolster attendance a year ago, with the average dropping to 8,540. Even adding a $99 student ticket package good for all football and men’s and women’s basketball games didn’t provide a boost this year. Through Thursday’s win against Stanford, the Buffs have averaged 7,733 this season.

Certainly the disappointing season hasn’t helped attract fans, but the 0-7 start in Pac-12 Conference play doesn’t explain the generally thin turnout all year in the student section, or the less-than-expected attendance for marquee early-season matchups like Colorado State (8,715) and nationally-ranked Xavier (7,743).

As usual, Boyle expressed great appreciation for those fans and students that spent their time and money supporting his Buffs this season for a home slate that included two 9 p.m. starts and another at 8 p.m. But he also admitted the attendance in general was a disappointment.

“I’m disappointed in our student section,” Boyle said. “Not the ones that are here. The ones that aren’t here. There’s no reason this can’t be sold out. I have to own the fact that this team has not performed up to our expectations. I totally get that. But I look at the Xavier game. I look at the Colorado State game. Those are two games that should be sellouts. And they weren’t. That’s on our fans. That’s on our marketing department. That’s on our coaching staff. That’s on everybody.

“I sensed it the year before, the momentum. Basketball is a game of momentum, and I think attendance is too. I’m very appreciative of the ones that come because I think we have a great core of fans. That’s what I’m appreciative of. The seats that are empty, it’s a challenge for me, it’s a challenge to our administration, it’s a challenge to our ticket office. It’s a challenge to everybody. I take it personal. I hope that everybody else does too. I don’t know that they do.”

In other basketball matters:

• The mutually-agreed upon yearly contract extension awarded to Boyle typically is handled at the February regents meeting. However, while not directly relating the delay to the ongoing investigation of how CU handled the situation surrounding former football assistant Joe Tumpkin, George said “there were other priorities” and expects the one-year extension to be approved by the Board of Regents at its April meetings. Per the terms of Boyle’s contract, CU must give notice to Boyle by Dec. 31 if they intend to not offer the extension. George confirmed no such notice was given and Boyle should be extended through 2021-22 in April.

• Despite the disappointing season Boyle nonetheless has reached at least a couple contract incentives. CU’s leader earned $30,000 when the Buffs notched their 15th regular season win on Feb. 12 against Washington State. Thursday’s win against Stanford gave CU win No. 17 on the regular season and gave Boyle another $20,000. Earning an NIT bid would award Boyle another $30,000 bonus. Unlike the NCAA Tournament there are no additional bonuses for winning in each round of the NIT beyond a $75,000 bonus for winning the entire tournament. There also is a $30,000 if the Buffs win next week’s Pac-12 tournament.

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