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Many Division I Programs See Big Drop in Basketball Attendance

About one out of every five Division I men’s basketball programs have seen their average regular-season attendance fall by 20 percent or more over the past four seasons, a Chronicle analysis has found. And while many colleges have had significant gains, the declines have left big budget holes in some athletic departments and could lead to major changes in the game.

Basketball ticket revenue typically accounts for 5 to 10 percent of a major-college athletic budget. And while some teams may be insulated from gate losses thanks to revenue from TV deals and donors, everyone feels a pinch from empty seats, says Dutch Baughman, executive director of the Division I-A athletic directors’ association.

“Of course it’s a major concern to any AD at any level,” he says. “Anytime you do anything to restrict or diminish an opportunity to generate revenue, it’s going to have an impact.”

The Na­tional Association of Basketball Coaches, which has its annual meetings at this weekend’s Final Four in New Orleans, does not plan to formally tackle the issue this week. But Jim Haney, the group’s executive director, says his members have certainly taken notice.

“I don’t think there’s a coach in the country who doesn’t know that in addition to winning games, fan attendance is an integral part of a successful program,” Mr. Haney says. “If you’re not putting people in the seats, that’s not a good thing.”

Among Bowl Championship Series programs, here are the biggest decliners and gainers in average regular-season home men’s basketball attendance over the past four seasons, according to the Chronicle analysis:

Biggest declines
2009 2012 4-year change
1. Arizona State 9,354 5,411 –42%
2. Washington State 8,018 4,910 –39%
3. UCLA* 9,843 6,352 –36%
4. Georgia Tech* 7,505 4,929 –34%
5. USC 5,619 3,970 –29%
6. Wake Forest 12,122 8,675 –28%
7. Oklahoma 11,490 8,524 –26%
8. South Carolina 11,776 8,868 –25%
9. Notre Dame* 10,468 8,004 –24%
10. Stanford 7,029 5,393 –23%
Biggest gains
2009 2012 4-year change
1. Colorado 4,637 7,804 68%
2. St. John’s (N.Y.) 5,418 7,831 45%
3. Kansas State 8,940 12,528 40%
4. Auburn* 5,108 6,502 27%
5. Alabama 9,960 12,484 25%
6. Northwestern 4,883 5,972 22%
7. Missouri 9,805 11,846 21%
8. Rutgers 4,667 5,362 15%
9. Indiana 14,331 16,462 15%
10. Syracuse 21,044 23,618 12%
* Institutions that changed home venues or seating capacity during the time period examined
Note: Averages are for home games during the regular season and exclude games where attendance figures were not available; figures are rounded
Sources: ESPN; NCAA; Chronicle analysis
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