How former UT coaches fared in attendance their first season
Season Coach Avg. Home Att. Nat'l Rank
2005-06 Bruce Pearl 17,954 5th
2001-02 Buzz Peterson 14,230 16th
1997-98 Jerry Green 15,372 10th
1994-95 Kevin O'Neill 14,882 13th
1989-90 Wade Houston 17,524 7th
1978-79 Don DeVoe 12,083 17th
1977-78 Cliff Wettig 12,385 13th
Season-ticket sales for Tennessee men's basketball games are down, but not to the point of dusting off the black curtains once used to hide vacant upper-level seats.
Doug Kose, UT's assistant athletic director for marketing and sales, said the Vols have sold 13,030 season tickets through Wednesday, 11.3 percent down from last season's final total of 14,687.
"Compared to last year, we're down a little bit,'' Kose said. "But we're not going to apologize for the number we're at; we're excited about it. We still have time to add to that amount.''
Tennessee drew an average of 18,952 per game at Thompson-Boling Arena last season, which ranked fifth in the nation.
Kose pointed out UT's current season-ticket sales represent a larger number than many arenas hold. The Vols' current total would sell out SEC arenas at Ole Miss (capacity 9,061), Auburn (9,121), Mississippi State (10,500), Georgia (10,523) and Florida (12,000).
Even if the Vols don't sell another season or walk-up ticket, the 13,030 in guaranteed paid attendance would rank 25th nationally based on last season's numbers.
UT coach Cuonzo Martin said Thompson-Boling Arena (capacity 21,678) was one of the things that appealed to him before he accepted the job on March 27.
"I know firsthand that Thompson-Boling Arena has been a tremendously tough place to play,'' said Martin, who coached Missouri State in a 60-56 loss in Knoxville on Nov. 17 last season. "Our players will tell you that Tennessee fans have a direct impact on each and every game, because they feed off the energy of the crowd.
"The proof is in the pudding, when you look at some of the teams who came here favored to win but went home with a loss.''
Indeed, UT men's basketball was the last varsity revenue sport to defeat a No. 1-ranked team in Knoxville, topping then-No. 1 Kansas, 76-68, Jan. 10, 2010.
The Vols have posted winning home marks each of the past 16 seasons, going 203-52 (.796) during that span. Last season's 10-8 home record was the worst since 1994-95, which also was the only time UT had a losing record in the 25-year history of Thompson-Boling Arena.
This season's rugged home schedule, which includes traditional Big East powers Pittsburgh and Connecticut in addition to top 15 SEC Eastern Division foes Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida, will present a challenge.
But it also presents a marketing opportunity.
Kose said UT's recently unveiled "Big Game Pack" has been met with enthusiasm since being made available to the public on Monday.
"The Big Game Pack, which are 300 (upper) level seats, includes the games with Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia,'' Kose said. "It goes for $90 for a ticket to all of those games, and we've sold 565 of them so far — over 200 since they were made available to the public.
"We'll push some promotions around other single games.''
Tennessee ranked in the top five nationally in attendance all six years of the tenure of previous coach Bruce Pearl and has only ranked outside the nation's top 20 twice (1993-94, 22nd and 2003-04, 21st) since Thompson-Boling Arena opened in 1987-88.
Kose believes UT fans will take a liking to Martin's aggressive style immediately, and Martin has said nothing that would indicate otherwise.
"Opponents know it's going to be 40 extremely tough and intense minutes when you come to play in Knoxville,'' Martin said. "And with the effort and style of play we're going to demand from our players, I don't expect the crowd support to be any different than it has been in the past.
"It fires me up just thinking about it.''
Kose said UT has lower-level season tickets available behind the baskets. The lower-level season tickets require a minimum donation of $2,500 (which also can be used toward women's basketball and football, and include the right to purchase preferred parking), and cost an additional $440 per ticket or $360 for UT faculty.
Upper-level season tickets cost $180 each (faculty $144) and do not require a donation.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32