Friday, November 5, 2010

Expectations: Attendance

Attendance at the O'Rena has steadily grown over the past few years, especially in the realm of the student population. Last season, Oakland ranked third in the Summit League in average attendance and second in terms of the percentage of seats full. In fact, utilizing the listed O'Rena capacity of 3,000, Oakland sold 91% of seats on average for the season. That capacity is a bit misleading, however, as some of the biggest games at Oakland have had well over 3,000 people in attendance, including over 4,000 at a game against Missouri in 2003. Whatever the capacity, the fact remains that the O'Rena has had steady attendance figures which rank near the top in the conference.

Heading into the new season, there should be an expectation to keep these rates steady if not increase them. The program is coming off a championship season and NCAA Tournament appearance. Moreover, the team has a legitimate NBA prospect in the paint as well as several key players coming back. While marquee home games might be few and far between, there are enough storylines and noteworthy opponents to warrant the interest of casual fans. Capturing this section of the population is key. This will prove much easier to accomplish if the Golden Grizzlies can turn some heads during the slew of non-conference road games they play early in the season. If OU is able to pull off an upset over one of the BCS schools, the regional coverage will surely come flooding in. Thus, interest will grow.

The population we're more interested in is that of the students. This fall, Oakland University experienced its thirteenth straight year of enrollment growth, no doubt influenced by an incredibly large influx of transfer students. The overall number of students is 19,053, with undergrads making up 15,530 of that total. For fans who were once Pioneers, these numbers are probably rather astounding, though it's been clear over the past decade that student population growth has been a main priority of the administration. With over 15,000 students, one would expect to see more than a few scattered dozen occupying the student section during the games.

Fortunately, it appears that those sparsely attended games will be far from the norm for the foreseeable future. The student section last year was rather solid throughout the year, and one would expect that trend to continue especially given that the team should be solid once again. The main hurdle in increasing this number in the future will be directly linked to adding more student housing to the campus. It's no secret that students are much more likely to go to games, especially those on the weekends, if they are already living on the campus. Unfortunately, campus housing is pretty much maxed at this point, so the residential population can't swell at the same rate as overall student population growth. Thus, unless there is an increased initiative to get more commuter students involved with the student section, the growth of the Grizz Gang will be stunted, somewhat.

We continue to hope that there is a day when the O'Rena is packed for every game. The only thing holding this season back from breaking attendance records is the lack of those aforementioned marquee "names" that would draw in the casual basketball fan from the tri-county area. Otherwise, everything about Coach Kampe's program points to the fact that Oakland basketball should be a hot ticket in 2010-11. As fans, we must now step up to do our part. Bring a family member, a friend, or an alumni who hasn't reconnected with the university in years. They shouldn't be disappointed.

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