Ron Jacober

It’s called “March Madness”. The college basketball post season is wall-to-wall hoops. But, it may not be as “mad” as it has been. There are some clouds on the horizon.

Simply put, it is no longer necessary to buy a ticket and go to a game to enjoy it. I understand that the experience of being in a jam packed arena and watching some great basketball is wonderful. It can even be memorable. I’ve been there and called games like that. But, regular season and post season games are taking some significant attendance hits. First of all, virtually all of the conference post season games are televised. And, all of the NCAA tournament games are on the tube. It takes four networks to handle all of the games but they are all there for free. In addition, the NCAA streams the games for free so they can be watched on a computer or even a smart phone.

Regular season attendance is falling in many conferences. Even the gold standard ACC (can you say Duke and North Carolina) is feeling it. ACC attendance has fallen each of the last four years and last year for the first time in recent history–now under 10,000 a game. And this is almost unthinkable. At historic Cameron Indoor Arena, the famous student section is no longer filled for every game and the unused tickets are sold as general admission. The Pac-12, the conference of big schools in the west, struggles getting fans in seats averaging just over 7,200 a game. Stanford won 20 games this year but averages just 5,300 a game. Almost all of the major conferences have seen attendance drops in the last four years.

Many post season conference tournaments struggle to find ticket buyers. Checkout out the empty seats at tournaments like the Atlantic 10 in Atlantic City. Even the early rounds of the NCAA tournament struggle in some cities. It’s the Holy Grail of college hoops but it’s easier and cheaper to watch it on TV or smart phone. Since the NCAA has gone to big venues like the Edward Jones Dome where the Midwest Regional will be later this month, fans can wait to see what teams are coming before buying ticket. There will be about 45,000 seats available. You could buy a ticket today for the regional here without a problem. If the teams don’t interest you all that much, you can watch it on TV or your computer or smart phone for nothing. The Final Four remains an expensive and difficult ticket, of course, and is one of the great weekends in sports.

College basketball is also hurt by the “one and done” kids. The super talented players who jump to the pros after playing just one season. Some 40 players have done that in the last six years. The result is few great seniors or great teams. Senior nights for some college teams are not what they used to be. Attendance takes a hit.

So, what’s the point? It’s absolutely still a great month of basketball. But there are storm clouds on the horizon. There might not be any thunder in those clouds–yet. But the proliferation of the digital media and the number of games on TV have impacted attendance. Some suggest a summit of college leaders should be called to address the situation. It’s been a great ride but the ride seems to be heading down hill.


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