Attendance at Tennessee basketball games this season was a mixed bag, but the news wasn’t nearly as doom and gloom as at other college arenas around the country.
The Tennessee men’s team drew more fans this season than the season before (20,267 per game in 2007-08 to 20,483 in 2008-09). Not a big jump, but something to celebrate in bad economic times.
According to a USA Today study, each of college basketball’s 12 top-drawing conferences saw an attendance decrease during the 2008-09 regular season. The percentage ranged from 1 to 5 percent.
“We bucked a national trend,” said Vols coach Bruce Pearl in a video on the men’s athletic department’s Web site. “I am totally overwhelmed by the support we have received.”
The Vols were one of only three SEC teams that had attendance increases last season.
The Lady Vols weren’t as fortunate.
Although the team is still the biggest draw in women’s college basketball, attendance went down by an average of 1,800 each game.
The decline was based more on single-game sales than season tickets, which dropped off 639 from the previous season (11,446 to 10,807).
UT coach Pat Summitt thinks that the economy was a factor. Having just four Sunday home dates after Dec. 1 also didn’t help. Two of those games (Dec. 21 vs. Stanford and March 1 vs. Vanderbilt) were at night.
“Our biggest draw is on Sunday afternoons,” Lady Vols athletic director Joan Cronan said. “The way the schedule played, we only had (two) SEC games on Sunday afternoon. Just that could have been a factor. I think we could point at the economy. Maybe we weren’t as good.”
The defending national champions struggled to a 22-11 record and were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round for the first time, losing to Ball State.
UT’s men posted a 21-13 record this year after going 31-5 and briefly being ranked No. 1 last season.
“There was a lot of preseason excitement,” UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said. “For the most part, although we lost some games at home for the first time in awhile, the games were competitive and the team was exciting to watch.
“It goes without saying that Bruce has done a tremendous job in the community of building equity and interest in our program. Tennessee basketball has a ‘sexiness’ about it, in terms of being a good thing to do during the winter months in Knoxville.”
In their 15 home games (14 of which were televised), the Vols drew 307,239 fans; 10 of those crowds were larger than 20,000. Tennessee’s Jan. 7 home game against Gonzaga drew 22,326 — UT’s largest crowd since the arena renovation prior to the 2007-08 season.
A UT sports information office release also pointed out that Tennessee is the only Division I school ever to rank in the top five nationally in home attendance in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball in the same year and UT has accomplished that feat six times.
Dan Fleser of the News Sentinel contributed to this report.