The Maryland Terrapins men’s basketball team left Cole Field House following the end of the 2001-2002 basketball season. They headed across campus to the new, shiny Comcast Center. The Terps are moving Maryland Madness to Cole and now, Mark Turgeon says he’d like to get back to playing a regular season game at Cole every year. And there is no time like the present to make that move.
Why would the AD entertain an idea like moving back to Cole? Because the Terps continue to bleed attendance at the now decade-old Comcast Center. The Athletic Department needs to do anything it can to get more fans out to the games. Holding a game at Cole is a step in staunching the bleeding and Mark Turgeon realizes that.
Cole is too small
But, how would this work? Cole contains 3,300 fewer seats than Comcast. Who would get shut out? How would Maryland handle the fallout? Well, the attendance situation in College Park is more dire than you likely realize and it’s unlikely that anyone would get shut out.
First, let’s establish some numbers. Comcast’s current capacity is 17,950 and Cole’s capacity is 14,596.
Of the total capacity at Comcast (17,950), 4,000 student tickets are available. If student tickets are not claimed, they are offered for sale to Terrapin Club members first and then the general public. There are also some tickets held back for a variety of reasons (for administrative reasons/people, sponsors, etc.). I estimate those to be about 1,000 seats per game.
Comcast holds 17,950 and if we remove 5,000 for student and others tickets, that leaves us with 12,950 tickets for sale to season ticket holders. Prior to the start of the 2009 season, there were 1,681 unsold season tickets with one week left until the season started according to the Washington Times.
Then, let’s assume there are 2,000 unsold season tickets. This is an increase of about 19% in unsold season tickets from the 2009 season. I arrived at that estimate by taking a look at two items. Terrapin Club memberships have dropped by about 20% from 2008 to 2012 and we’ve seen overall attendance drop 26% since the 2009-2010 so let’s assume that the season ticket base eroded a little more slowly. (See chart at the end of the article for historical Maryland men’s basketball attendance.)
That leaves us with 12,950 minus 2000 which equals 10,950 season tickets bought by season ticket holders.
Now, hold the game over winter break and assume you get half of those 5,000 student/other to attend and you are at 10,950 plus 2,500 or 13,450. Cole’s capacity? 14,596.
Just using last year as an example, here are the reported attendance figures for games from December 21 2012 through January 22 2013:
Dec 21 – Stony Brook – 10,721
Dec 29 – Delaware State – 12,389
Jan 1 2013 – IUPUI – 8,971
Jan 5 – Virginia Tech – 17,950
Jan 9 – Florida State – 14,157
Jan 16 – North Carolina State – 17,950
Jan 22 – Boston College – 13,941
The athletic department has the actual attendance figures. Moreover, with the integration of StubHub and LetsMoveDown, the AD can now see what the value of the tickets are in the secondary market and easily determine if there is pent up demand. My guess? There isn’t a lot of pent up demand for late December or January games at Comcast.
Attendance is down – way down
Remember, we’ve seen ACC games available for sale to the general public in recent seasons. And last season, every single ACC game was available to all Terrapin Club members to buy additional seats (even the UNC and Duke games). The Maryland ticket office created ticket packages where you could get a UNC or Duke ticket as long as you bought a “lesser” ACC game and non-conference game as well.
There isn’t demand for the product. Playing a game at Cole could increase demand (even if for just one game).
For some history on attendance, see below and at the end of the column (all data from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Attendance site):
In the 2009-2010 season the Terps averaged 16,792 fans (down 256 per game from the prior season).
The 2010-2011 season (Gary Williams’ final season) the average dropped even further to 14,910 per game (just over the Cole Field House capacity of 14,596).
The 2011-2012 season saw another drop down to 13,182 per game.
And the 2012-2013 season was more of the same as the per game attendance dropped to 12,489 per game.
In the chart below, you can see the percentage capacity for all Maryland home games both at Cole and Comcast.
Maryland basketball season tickets are not a hot commodity and haven’t been for five years. I’m a Maryland men’s basketball season ticket holder and I certainly don’t give as much as someone had to just a few years ago to maintain season tickets.
“In 2008, a season ticket holder had to have given roughly $10,000 since he or she joined the Terrapin Club to maintain his or her season ticket. In 2012, there was no minimum threshold to purchase or maintain a season ticket. Despite impassioned newsletters to get young alumni to join, there was never a noticeable uptick even before the economic recession. After approaching 10,000 members in 2008, the Terrapin Club is now hovering around 8,000.” – Nov 27 2012 from Sports Illustrated.
Students no longer camp out. They register online for tickets and if more registrations are recorded than tickets available, a weighted lottery is held based on loyalty points and tickets are awarded. The students don’t have to “work” nearly as hard for the tickets as past students did so they may not value those seats as much as others might have.
Attendance is down 26% over the last four seasons. They need to do something. This year could be a disaster as the home schedule lacks Duke and UNC.
You could do so many things with a game at Cole to ensure that people don’t get shut out. You could:
- Reward the most loyal students from the football season and give them priority in the lottery for the Cole game.
- Encourage folks on the lower end of the giving spectrum, to give more than they do now by guaranteeing a Cole ticket if they give X more dollars.
Finally, how should the game work? Well, here is one humble suggestion from a two-time alumnus of College Park.
Make it the yearly Throwback Game – a celebration of Maryland and Cole Field House history.
First match up? Maryland takes on the University of Texas – El Paso (née Texas Western) in celebration of Texas Western’s groundbreaking 1966 title game victory at Cole. Each team plays in throw back uniforms from that season. Would you love to see these uniforms on the floor at Cole one more time?
Future matchups could be Maryland versus Manhattan College with each team wearing throwback uniforms from DeMatha Catholic High and Power Memorial. I’m not sure who would play Lew Alcindor, but I bet Under Armour wouldn’t mind putting together a Power Memorial throwback.
The possibilities are endless and this game would be a great way to energize the alumni, students, administration and corporate sponsors.
It would great if Maryland had the problem of the men’s team selling out games. It does not have that issue currently. And it will take more than one good season to climb back up the hill.
Maryland Men’s Basketball Attendance (1987 through 2013)
Source: NCAA Men’s Basketball Attendance – http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/NCAA/Resources/Stats/M+Basketball/Attendance/