John E. Hoover: Fans aren't showing up for OSU basketball games
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, January 20, 2013
1/20/13 at 7:40 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.
STILLWATER - For Saturday's 79-45 victory over Texas Tech, Oklahoma State announced an attendance figure of 9,193.
In reality, Gallagher-Iba Arena was perhaps 40 percent full.
"It's too bad, really," said former Cowboy coach and player Eddie Sutton.
A new Stillwater retailer handed out 1,000 free T-shirts that proclaimed "A Team of 13,611." At least the team on the floor showed up.
Minutes after the game, as escalators carried fans groundward from the sparsely populated third level, athletic director Mike Holder sat in his office and lamented the empty seats - particularly among OSU students.
"It's just not the cool thing to do right now," Holder said.
There are plenty of factors in play: the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the lack of success by the Cowboys themselves, the sharp and steady rise in ticket prices after Sutton's Final Four run in 2004, every game being on television, unlimited entertainment options for a new generation of consumers to unload disposable income, the economy - "there's probably as many opinions for why," Holder said, "as there are people."
Head coach Travis Ford says "nobody's a bigger Thunder fan than I am" and recognizes what an impact the NBA phenomenon has had on the state's traditionally collegiate fan bases.
"No, I think you're on. That has an effect, now. No question," Ford said. "I still think we can pack this place. I think we can both do it.
"I'm not sitting here saying I don't understand it. I do understand it. You ask people to choose and they're in Oklahoma City and they can go to a Thunder game ... Some choose to do both. But when there was no option, then it was a whole lot easier."
Sutton suspects the Thunder has had less impact on OSU attendance than it has at OU. He suggests fans stay away from Gallagher-Iba because ticket prices remain too high.
"He's probably right," Holder said. "But we've done things to reduce that."
In 2011, season tickets for the upper level - which was perhaps 75-80 percent empty on Saturday - were slashed from $575 to $275. Student tickets also have been addressed by creating a football-basketball combination season ticket for $340, or a basketball-only for $242.
Still, people stay away.
"The most troubling thing, from our perspective, is students," Holder said. "You saw our student section. That's the one area we should do better. That's the part of our fan base we've got to win back. That's not only important for today, but it's important 40 years from now."
Rowdy students bring up the energy of everyone else in the arena, which elevates the home team and can demoralize the opponent.
"If you put 13,000 50-year-olds in here, or you put 9,000 50-year-olds and 4,000 students, it's a whole different dynamic," Holder said.
In 2011, OSU sold about 3,600 student tickets but 500 or so went unclaimed. Holder said this year about 2,500 were sold, and some 600 haven't been picked up yet.
Holder said steep prices for student tickets are "not gonna be an excuse in the future. I don't know what we're gonna do, but we're gonna do something."
In Sutton's heyday, empty seats for conference games were almost nonexistent, and noise was off the charts. Visitors resorted to hand signals to communicate, and officials' whistles sometimes went unheard. Ears would ring for days afterward.
"I thought it was loud in there today, and the students were good," Ford said afterward inside Heritage Hall. "Especially with no classes on Monday."
There were outbursts Saturday for 3-pointers or dunks, but clearly, gone are the days of unrelenting and deafening waves of noise. Fans can actually sit and talk during games now.
Holder said he regularly reaches out to OSU students for feedback on increasing their participation. Ford, too, said he frequently interacts with the student body to generate interest.
Ford embraces what Holder says about everyone playing their part - coaches must coach, players must play, and administrators must do whatever they can to attract fans into the arena.
Winning is huge. After four NIT appearances in a six-year span, the Cowboys last season went 15-18 and missed the postseason entirely. There were high hopes for this year's team - Kansas coach Bill Self said the Cowboys probably have the Big 12's most talented roster - but having lost three of their last four didn't exactly make anyone get in line Saturday.
After losing to OU last weekend, Ford said the team "went hard" in practice. "Harder than we have here. ... Guys found out what was gonna be accepted and what was not. Some guys found out the hard way."
Maybe a renewed focus and a 34-point beatdown of Tech was a sign of something good - more wins, more fans, etc. Winning feeds attendance, and attendance can feed winning.
"I don't think you can have one without the other," Holder said.
The New Year's Eve game against No. 10-ranked Gonzaga, a 69-68 OSU loss, was bolstered by Boone Pickens' purchase and giveaway of 4,000 tickets, and although a sellout was announced, the arena still wasn't full.
"It was a little discouraging," Holder said. "We have a team that's ranked in the top 20 and (still have) low attendance. It's kind of alarming."
Since Sutton retired, OSU's truly packed houses probably can be counted on one hand.
A banner reading "Welcome to America's number one collegiate arena - CBS SportsLine, Aug. 2001" still hangs from the ceiling. Next to it, another commemorates OSU's "Baseball National Champions - 1959".
Which is more relevant?
They both seem like a million years ago.
Original Print Headline: Fans aren't showing up in Stillwater
4:30 p.m. Monday
Notebook, boxscore B5
Oklahoma State sophomore forward Le'Bryan Nash sends a disapproving look after a foul was called against Oklahoma State during Oklahoma State's 79-49 victory over Texas Tech. KT KING/For the Tulsa World