From Austin Rivers to Michael Snaer to Karl Hess, ACC basketball has produced a madcap season. Too bad so few saw the games in-person.
The conference’s regular-season attendance declined for the fourth consecutive year in 2011-12, with the average home crowd falling to 9,632.
That’s a modest 2.4-percent dip from last season, but let’s not kid ourselves. In many cases, crowds were much smaller than the tickets-sold numbers schools released to save face.
Moreover, attendance has dropped 13.8 percent from 2005-06, the ACC’s first season with its current 12 teams. The average regular-season crowd then was 11,176.
Spectators and television viewers can’t help but notice the thousands of empty seats. And while they may give the fan in Section 120 more elbow room, they’re a TV eyesore and a drag on the bottom line.
Even the good news is tempered.
For example, Virginia is among two league schools — North Carolina is the other — that enjoyed increased attendance, a 3.6-percent climb to 10,520. But crowds have fallen 22.2 percent, or by 2,999 spectators, from the 13,521 high of 2006-07, the year John Paul Jones Arena opened.
Virginia Tech claimed a sellout of 9,847 for its final home game, Sunday against North Carolina State, but Cassell Coliseum maybe was half full. Even with that inflated figure — many students had departed for spring break — the Hokies’ average home attendance this season was 8,395, down 6.0 percent from last year.
That’s a 14.5 percent dip from 2006-07, when in its third ACC season Tech reached the second round of the NCAA tournament and averaged 9,822 per night.
Virginia, Virginia Tech, the ACC and college basketball certainly are not alone here.
Schools and teams raise ticket prices to combat escalating costs; television networks insist on more inconvenient starting times — midweek tips at 9 p.m., and Sunday night games are particular banes.
Fans, many affected by the sketchy economy, choose to save money or spend it elsewhere. Others, hooked up with high-definition, surround sound, DVR and hundreds of channels, elect the convenience of home viewing over the hassles of congested traffic and cold hot dogs.
Last year, the Big East sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA tournament. This season, the conference’s average crowd dipped 2.5 percent to 10,823.
The Southeastern Conference was up a robust 9.0 percent to 11,537, the Big Ten by a modest 0.82 percent to 12,742.
The so-called mid-major conferences are equally vulnerable and don’t have millions in television revenue to cushion the fall.
A year after receiving an unprecedented three NCAA bids and reveling in VCU’s run to the Final Four, the Colonial Athletic Association saw crowds decline 4.7 percent to 3,437.
Four of the five CAA programs in Virginia saw attendance fall, ranging from Old Dominion’s 0.81 percent to George Mason’s 12.5 percent. The lone riser, not surprisingly, was VCU. The Rams sold out every home game, raising their average crowd 14.7 percent to 7,622.
Sellouts took on a new meaning at perennially packed Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Duke’s famed student section included more outsiders than ever before.
The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, reported in January that undergraduates were occupying only 650 of 1,200 available seats for some games, with the school selling the remainder to the general public.
Teel Time: ACC basketball attendance falls for fourth consecutive season
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