Gophers fans fill Williams Arena amid national attendance drop

According to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education, one in five Division I men’s basketball programs saw attendance drop by 20 percent or more over the past four years.

Andrew Krammer

Just as a new college stadium or arena can have a rise-and-fall effect on a team’s attendance, so can a new coach.

Fifth-year Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith and his team have witnessed the rise, but they have yet to see a fall.

A study released by the Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that about one in every five Division I basketball teams has seen a 20 percent decrease in its attendance over the past four years.

While the NCAA doesn’t release its attendance figures until the season is over, fans filled Williams Arena in 2010-11 enough to rank Gophers basketball 24th nationally.

Minnesota was ranked 23rd from 2008-10.

“Our attendance numbers have improved since Tubby [Smith] has been here,” athletics spokesman Garry Bowman said.

The Gophers’ average of 13,241 fans per home game ranked seventh in the Big Ten last season. The team averaged 13,453 fans in 2009-10, also seventh.

The Big Ten has led all conferences in basketball attendance for the past 35 years.

Before Smith’s arrival, the Gophers averaged fewer than 11,000 fans per game in the 2006-07 season.

A move to premium seating next year — a highly debated decision made by outgoing athletics director Joel Maturi — will be telling in Gophers fans’ commitment to the struggling team.

Each men’s basketball season-ticket holder will be relocated in 2012-13. The fans that have held season tickets the longest, among other criteria, will receive first choice at their new seat.

On top of that, some Gophers fans will have to pay a $100, $250 or $500 donation, depending on the seat location. The set donation costs mimic TCF Bank Stadium’s premium pricing.

Maturi told the Minnesota Daily in February that the athletics department is, in essence, forcing a donation.

“Good news is: 80 percent of that is tax deductible,” he said.