University of Missouri

Explaining Mizzou basketball’s attendance ‘spike’ despite empty seats

There were plenty of seats available on Jan. 10 as Russell Woods was introduced before Mizzou’s 77-72 loss to Auburn at Mizzou Arena.
There were plenty of seats available on Jan. 10 as Russell Woods was introduced before Mizzou’s 77-72 loss to Auburn at Mizzou Arena. AP

Missouri boasts the largest increase percentage-wise in the SEC for men’s basketball attendance this season, but that is largely the product of an accounting trick.

The Tigers historically have used a turnstile count — including fans, credentialed media, and game-day and athletics department staff— for its announced attendance.

That changed with the Arizona game on Dec. 10 at Mizzou Arena.

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The Tigers started reporting an alternative number, tickets sold, and applied that figure retroactively for the previous nonconference games during 2016-17 a few weeks ago.

Officially, Mizzou ranks 39th in Division I basketball with an average home crowd of 9,643, according to the NCAA’s database.

That’s a 53.2-percent increase compared to last season, when attendance at Tigers basketball games bottomed out at 6,295.

In a statement to The Star, Mizzou Athletics confirmed the change as part of “an ongoing effort to be consistent with best practices both within the Southeastern Conference and nationally.”

The statement continued, “Mizzou Athletics’ goal remains to positively reflect the contributions of its many fans and supporters, and this adjustment aligns with that goal.”

Between 1986-87 and 2003-04, Mizzou annually averaged more than 10,000 fans per game with an average national rank of 24th among all D-I teams during that span.

But last season’s attendance was the lowest since 1977-78, when the average Hearnes Center crowd was 5,948 — and the problem has worsened.

Using a turnstile count, Mizzou’s average “estimated actual attendance” this season — provided on each game’s box score — is 5,251.

Missouri coach Kim Anderson discussed an 87–74 loss Wednesday against Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss. It was the Tigers' 30th consecutive loss on the road.

That is the Tigers’ lowest rate since the NCAA started tracking men’s basketball attendance 40 years ago and roughly one-third of Mizzou Arena’s capacity.

Switching to reporting tickets sold paints a much rosier picture of Mizzou Arena’s crowds, even if it’s no longer an apples-to-apples comparison.

From an optics standpoint — considering national perception of the program, especially among media and recruits — it’s a savvy change, not a dirty trick.

According to NCAA Statistics Policies and Guidelines, teams are permitted to calculate and report attendance using a “turnstile count, tickets sold or estimates” of the crowd size.

The SEC has no specific policy on reporting attendance, according to a spokesman, so it’s up to each institution.

Before last month, Missouri was in the minority in using a turnstile count. Every SEC school that responded to The Star’s survey about attendance-reporting formulas — eight of the other 13 members — already uses tickets sold.

By that measure, and with a season-ticket base of nearly 9,000, the Tigers will probably finish in the upper half of the SEC in attendance despite the game-day eyesore of empty seats.

Men’s basketball isn’t alone in dealing with attendance issues.

For the sixth straight season, Football Bowl Subdivision attendance declined, drawing the smallest average crowd since 2000, according to research by CBS Sports.

Mizzou was hit particularly hard one year after a player boycott infuriated a segment of its fanbase.

During 2015, the Tigers ranked 23rd in FBS home attendance with an average crowd of 65,120. That number plummeted to 52,236 last season — a drop of 19.8 percent.

The Tigers’ attendance decline was the largest among Power Five programs and seventh-largest overall in FBS.

“It’s something we’re very attentive to,” first-year MU athletic director Jim Sterk said last month in a meeting with reporters.

Mizzou— which has always used tickets sold for reporting football attendance, because there are no turnstiles at Memorial Stadium — averaged fewer than 60,000 per game for the first time since 2006.

It was the smallest average Memorial Stadium crowd since 1996 and ranked 38th in FBS — just behind Iowa State and ahead of Kansas State.

The Tigers’ on-field struggles — a 5-7 season Gary Pinkel’s last before retiring and a 4-8 campaign in Barry Odom’s debut — help explain the attendance issues.

Continuing to repair public-relations damage from the November 2015 boycott, which drew national attention amid racial protests on campus, remains critical for restoring attendance levels.

“Believe me, I know how many are in the seats and out of the seats,” Odom said. “I see it, and I understand that’s part of my job. … Our program needs fans and support, and I look forward to getting it back.”

Odom said he has prioritized “rebuilding relationships across the state,” hoping to win back disgruntled fans.

That’s also been a priority for Sterk since his arrival in August.

“I think we’ve gone from people saying ‘no’ to there’s a little bit of apathy,” he said. “We want to move them to — ‘All right, let’s get you back and we have some great things going on,’ so that’s the process we’re going through.”

Mizzou’s ticket-sales revenue plunged more than $4.27 million last year, a drop of 18.2 percent. Sluggish season ticket sales in football and basketball were to blame.

The Tigers sold 36,954 football season tickets for 2016, which is 8,241 fewer than 2015, and 8,876 men’s basketball season ticket, which is 2,166 fewer than the year before.

Since joining the SEC for the 2012-13 season, Mizzou’s season-ticket sales for football and men’s basketball have dropped 21.0 percent and 28.7 percent, respectively.

To combat declining attendance, Mizzou announced a revenue-sharing partnership Jan. 9 with IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions for enhanced outbound ticket sales.

“We really here historically have not had to worry about that too much,” Sterk said, “but we’ve signed up with them, we have an agreement with them and we’re going to move forward and be aggressively going after” ticket sales.

Winning more would help, too.

“If you win games, people will come,” third-year basketball coach Kim Anderson said earlier this season.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened the last few seasons.

Mizzou football is 9-15, including a 3-13 conference record, the last two seasons and basketball is 24-58 with a 6-37 SEC record during Anderson’s tenure.

“I want to win for (our fans) …,” Odom said. “I want them to have something to support and be proud of. I’ve seen (Memorial Stadium) when it’s one of the best venues that there is at night. I want to get back there.”

CHANGES IN SEC BASKETBALL ATTENDANCE

() indicates NCAA Division I rank

School

2015-16 attendance

2016-17 attendance*

% change

Missouri

6,295 (85)

9,643 (39)

+53.2%

Mississippi State

6,556 (79)

7,212 (66)

+10.0%

Florida

9,686 (45)

10,564 (33)

+9.1%

South Carolina

11,995 (31)

12,641 (22)

+5.4%

Arkansas

14,879 (12)

15,171 (12)

+2.0%

Kentucky

23,362 (1)

23,100 (1)

-1.1%

Auburn

8,216 (57)

7,958 (54)

-3.1%

Tennessee

14,233 (17)

13,390 (19)

-5.9%

Georgia

7,346 (65

) 6,897 (72)

-6.1%

Alabama

13,110 (22)

11,508 (29)

-12.2%

Mississippi

7,993 (61)

6,963 (70)

-12.9%

Vanderbilt

11,135 (36)

9,594 (40)

-13.8%

Texas A&M

9,956 (50)

7,807 (56)

-21.6%

LSU

11,383 (35)

7,131 (68)

-37.4%

* Entering Saturday’s games

CHANGES IN SEC FOOTBALL ATTENDANCE

() indicates Football Bowl Subdivision rank

School

2015 attendance

2016 attendance

%change

LSU

93,441 (7)

101,231 (5)

+8.3%

Mississippi

60,479 (29)

64,910 (24)

+7.3%

Arkansas

67,326 (21)

69,581 (21)

+3.3%

Alabama

101,112 (4)

101,821 (4)

+0.7%

Tennessee

100,584 (5)

100,968 (6)

+0.4%

Georgia

92,746 (8)

92,746 (9)

Auburn

87,451 (12

) 86,937 (12)

-0.6%

Texas A&M

103,622 (3)

101,917 (3)

-1.6%

South Carolina

78,822 (16)

76,920 (17)

-2.4%

Florida

90,065 (9)

87,846 (11)

-2.5%

Vanderbilt

32,134 (67)

31,242 (73)

-2.8%

Mississippi State

61,784 (26)

58,317 (29)

-5.6%

Kentucky

61,295 (27)

53,643 (36)

-12.5%

Missouri

65,120 (23)

52,236 (38)

-19.8%

MISSOURI FOOTBALL HOME ATTENDANCE

Season

Average

FBS rank

2016

52,236

38

2015

65,120

23

2014

65,285

24

2013

63,505

25

2012

67,476

24

2011

62,095

25

2010

61,540

26

2009

64,120

28

2008

64,520

26

2007

60,232

31

MISSOURI BASKETBALL HOME ATTENDANCE

Season

Average

NCAA D-I rank

2016-17

9,643

39

2015-16

6,294

85

2014-15

8,064

55

2013-14

8,856

50

2012-13

11,996

29

2011-12

11,830

32

2010-11

11,112

34

2009-10

10,349

40

2008-09

9,805

47

2007-08

8,060

68

MISSOURI SEASON TICKET SALES

School year

Football

Men’s basketball

2016-17

36,954

8,876

2015-16

45,195

11,042

2014-15

44,330

12,146

2013-14

42,166

12,444

2012-13

46,786

12,448

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