Turnout for NCAA games falls short
BY MATT BAKER World Sports Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
3/22/11 at 5:22 AM
Related Story: NCAA Tournament glance
Before the NCAA Tournament arrived in Tulsa last week, area officials knew filling the BOK Center could be a challenge.
They were right.
Attendance was one of the only major issues in the games Friday and Sunday.
And it's one Tulsa must address if it hopes to land the tournament again.
"We're going to have to sell more tickets next time," said Michael Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber.
Tulsa ranked seventh in attendance among the eight sites that hosted second- and third-round games from Thursday-Sunday.
For two sessions Friday and one Sunday, the BOK Center averaged an announced attendance of 14,274. Only Tucson, Ariz., (10,507) had smaller crowds.
For the six games, the BOK Center filled 80 percent of the 17,839 seats. Only Tampa, Fla., (78 percent full) and Tucson (75 percent) had a greater percentage of empty seats.
"That'll be something we're going to work on," said Ray Hoyt, executive director of the Tulsa Sports Commission.
Attendance has been a problem at other sites, too. Since setting record numbers in 2008, tournament attendance has decreased each of the last two years by a total of 7.5 percent, according to NCAA figures.
Last year, Oklahoma City drew an average of 14,178 for its games. That's a slightly smaller crowd than Tulsa attracted this year.
Hoyt said Tulsa would boost its marketing if the tournament returns to town. But area officials also said some schools didn't have as many out-of-town fans as they hoped.
Zip-code analysis shows the BOK Center sold a lot of tickets to people from Kansas and Memphis, said Jeff Nickler, the BOK Center's special events and booking manager. But sales from Texas weren't as strong as expected.
"We certainly thought some of the teams would bring more than they did," Neal said.
Aside from attendance, area officials reported few problems. Shuttles from downtown to Cherry Street and other entertainment districts ran well, and the BOK Center made a few small adjustments.
Lines at some concession stands were especially long Friday, so the arena added cashiers Sunday to speed up service.
Because the arena wasn't accustomed to predominantly male audiences, lines for the men's restrooms were long Friday, which is why officials switched two women's restrooms to men's for the next games.
"Speaking from the facilities side, I think it was a home run," the arena's Nickler said.
"I don't think we had any major issues throughout the entire tournament. We've received positive feedback from all of the NCAA reps on site."
Illinois forward Mike Davis called the BOK Center a "top-level, NBA arena," while Texas forward Tristan Thompson said it should be a regular stop for the NCAA.
"It surprised me when we were coming in," Thompson said. "I was like, 'Wow, that's the arena.' I didn't expect it to look that nice."
Although some fans complained about the lack of things to do around the arena, players said that meant fewer distractions.
"I can just sit in my hotel, lay back and not really speak to anybody," Arizona guard Lamont Jones said. "Nobody knows about Tulsa, so I can say my phone doesn't have any service and it doesn't work."
NCAA officials are not allowed to comment publicly on Tulsa's performance as host because they haven't finished their evaluations. But they are scheduled to meet with city and University of Tulsa officials next month to discuss the event.
They'll go over reviews from TU and the NCAA and discuss ways to improve for the future. Tulsa is expected to bid for the tournament in 2014 or 2015 - the next available years.
"Now we have a blueprint for future bids," said Nick Salis, TU's assistant athletic director and the tournament's co-director. "We know what worked and know what didn't work."
Salis stressed that attendance is only one factor in landing the tournament again. The NCAA also considers the arena, logistics, lodging and fan experience - and they all drew positive reviews from the NCAA.
"They were very pleased with the city of Tulsa, the BOK Center and the University of Tulsa as host," Salis said. "It was very encouraging hearing those words come out from the NCAA."
Original Print Headline: Turnout troubles
Matt Baker 918-581-8358
Tulsa ranked seventh in attendance among the eight sites that hosted second- and third-round games in the NCAA Tournament. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes played in front of near-capacity crowds in the second and third rounds at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. AMY SANCETTA / AP