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How to cure the Buffalo Bulls Men’s Basketball attendance problem in Alumni Arena

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It’s not always #Operation6000 crowds

Photo courtesy of UB Athletics

One of the hottest topics to talk about throughout the Buffalo Bulls fan base is how many folks get their bodies to the seats at Alumni Arena on game day. UB Men’s Basketball is coming off of their best two years in program history and could make it three by the time March rolls around. Despite the success the Bulls have seen, the only attendance that has truly improved is of the students.

Two years ago Buffalo had their first home game of the season against South Dakota State. The bleachers that are home to UB’s student crowd were a quarter full at best if you don’t count the pep band. Two MAC Championships later, a good core of students have bought in and it’s almost expectation now to fill the left bleachers in Alumni.

Meanwhile, the general public has yet to fully buy in to the best basketball in the city of Buffalo while St. Bonaventure regularly packs the Reilly Center an hour and a half South. It’s quite common to see a half-empty Alumni Arena when you widen your scope from looking over at the student section. So how does UB get people into the seats of Alumni on more than an occasional basis?

Upset a team in the NCAA Tournament of course.

No, it’s not the easiest thing to do. I’m also not guaranteeing that Buffalo makes the tourney this year. But, should the Bulls make the field of 64 and take down a three, four, or five seed, there should be a benefit to attendance.

Attendance after upsetting a team in the NCAA Tournament

Year Team Upset type Previous Year Attendance Average Following Year Attendance Average Percent change
Year Team Upset type Previous Year Attendance Average Following Year Attendance Average Percent change
2015 Georgia State (3/14) 1869 1796 -3.91
2015 UAB (3/14) 3257 4945 51.8
2014 North Dakota State (5/12) 3308 2512 -24.1
2013 LaSalle (4/13) 2910 2988 2.7
2013 Florida Gulf Coast (2/15) 2291 4340 89.4
2012 Lehigh (2/15) 1332 1795 34.8
2012 Norfolk State (2/15) 1862 2933 57.5
2012 South Florida (5/12) 3849 5389 40.0
2012 Ohio (4/13) 6177 6932 12.2
2011 Morehead State (4/13) 3068 2241 -36.9

The above table outlines mid-major/minor conference teams that had big upsets in the NCAA Tournament and how their attendance changed after the fact. As you can see, a lot of these teams saw their attendance numbers shoot up the next year.

Some teams didn’t fare so well and I can at least explain why for two of them. Georgia State followed up their big year and tourney upset with an awful 16-14 season that saw them struggle in conference play. Tough to ask the new bandwagon fans to come out in droves when that happens. North Dakota State saw the effect that UB fans saw when Bobby Hurley left. When Hurley left and Nate Oats was hired, there was definitely a drop in attendance last year and the same happened when Saul Phillips left NDSU for a better job at Ohio.

Morehead St. is a total outlier in this data as they had a great year record wise to follow up the upset win. But, it probably doesn’t help when basketball powers Louisville and Kentucky are so close to them.

But, besides the three programs that went down in attendance, all of the other programs saw increases, and some by large margins. Take Florida Gulf Coast, for example. The Eagles grabbed an upset win over #2 Georgetown and eventually reached the Sweet Sixteen. The next year, the Eagles nearly DOUBLED their true fan base. Imagine if UB’s average attendance from this year at 3501 turned into 6616. That’s nine more people on average than what UB had almost two years ago for #Operation6000. There simply wouldn’t be enough room in Alumni for the demand.

Of course, not every place is going to see an 89% jump in attendance. But even so, if the Bulls get the 40% that South Florida had, then that turns 3501 to 4901. That within itself would make the atmosphere of Alumni Arena much better. If UB can somehow upset a team AND retain head coach Nate Oats, then the reward could be a big one.

Still, I believe that 89% jump in attendance is possible. The city of Buffalo does not have a professional basketball team. No other college has stepped up and taken claim of the basketball fan demographic and Syracuse is still a two hour drive away. For a city that has 250,000+ people in it, there’s no way that there isn’t another 3000 out there craving a basketball product that competes on a national level.

People in Buffalo aren’t going to care how many MAC Championships the Bulls win. They want to see their beloved hometown team in national prominence before they gear in the support. Being a team that can hang with the best of the best will bring the UB fans out of hiding.

The loyalty of sports fans in Buffalo is unrivaled as well. Be good once, and the fans will stay forever. Just look at the sorry state of the professional football and hockey franchises that are here and how fans still pack the stands. It’s the textbook example of the phrase “win and they’ll come.”

So how does UB fix the current attendance problem? As the Oakland Raiders say: “Just win, baby.”