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OU basketball: Emails in on lack of attendance

College basketball attendance remains a national problem for athletic departments, and OU is no exception, as I wrote about last week, in a column in which you can read here.  I received quite a bit of feedback from Sooner fans and decided to share some of their thoughts and ideas, along with my responses.

Peggy: “My husband and I have been season-ticket holders for OU men’s basketball games since the time of Dave Bliss as coach. So you will quickly conclude we are ‘old’ fans in every sense of the word. I suspect if a calculation were done that correlates attendance and time of game that there would be some evidence that the later the game the lower the attendance. OU basketball has always been a family event, but 8 p.m. games, especially on a school night, is not something most families will opt to do. I am guessing that the time of the game is dictated by television coverage. If that is the case, the alarming thing is that OU is allowing television to diminish game attendance and possibly eliminate a whole sports program. We will not be attending the games scheduled at Chesapeake and are at a loss as why this was done. If it was to accommodate the fans that live in OKC, an earlier game time might have been better option.”

First off, my theory on the games in OKC is, what can it hurt? Might as well try it. I don’t think the turnout will be good, but you can’t blame OU for trying. As for the 8 p.m. starts, I agree. But that’s not an OU thing, other than OU is in the Big 12, and conferences sign contracts with networks. ESPN dictates the tip times. Clearly, the Big 12 needs to plead for more 7 p.m. starts, but just as clearly, the ESPN windows are 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., Oklahoma time.

Rebecca: “I live in Austin. People are scared to go to large events nowadays because of the chance of mass shootings. Most of my friends are apprehensive to attend any major events. It's hard to get them to go to the OU-Baylor football game in Waco. They think I’m crazy, but I can see their point. They are older and not quite as fearless as I tend to be. I have guns, usually have a knife in my purse, and each vehicle I drive. But I am a Christian and I'm not afraid. But as you said, social media and GrubHub, etc., have changed our society. Over- protective parents don't help either. My children were in public school and in college during Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook. I was always more concerned about tornadoes than shooters. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I totally believe people have become scared of their own shadows.”

I suppose that’s possible. We absolutely have become more insulated, as I wrote about. This is not an OU or a Big 12 or a basketball or a sports problem. It’s a societal issue.

Keith: “I was watching the OU-Iowa State game on TV last Wednesday and was shocked by the large number of empty seats I saw. Your article reminded me of an article you wrote last fall after the OU-Iowa State football game when so many OU fans left before the game was over. As a native of Oklahoma, lifelong Sooner fan and pastor who moved to Florida 23 years ago, I can identify with the problem. You are right. It is harder to get people to congregate, even in church! If I did not know better, I would think you were talking about church attendance instead of football and basketball attendance. Even small churches live-stream their services, making it easy to stay home and watch church services in your pajamas while sipping on a cup of coffee. However, I have always preferred to go to a game or a church service in person. You cannot replicate on a TV or a cell phone the excitement or emotion of being there in person. In short, I guess I am saying ‘amen’ to your article. Perhaps if people were to leave the state for 23 years maybe they would better understand what a privilege it is to be there in person.”

Right on. And churches wring their hands over the dilemma just as much as athletic departments and sports franchises do.

Robert: “Our kids love OU fervently. They root hard for the Sooners -- every time. But they do not attend many games. It’s too easy to just sit it out. And they have meetings and stuff like we did. And they have convenient access to TV. I recall being a student at OU, living in a frat house about 1/4 mile from The Fieldhouse. About six or eight of us would attend games. We loved them. Great games, Sidle, Rogers, Due, Holladay, Jim Johnson. These guys could play! They would help OU today. I will continue to buy season tickets. Attending games is our favorite hobby. They are as usual, a good team. Excellent at times. Always entertaining and great effort, and good guys.”

The student involvement is the No. 1 issue. The Sooners have very little student attendance. And students can make up for an otherwise mundane crowd.

Mark: “I agree with some of your comments. Having recently moved to OKC from Cincinnati, I offer some observations from my 30-plus years as a Xavier season-ticket holder. It starts with the students. Where are they? At the recent West Virginia game, there were about 11 students attending. At a Xavier or Cincinnati game, the student section is full for every game and the energy of that group raises the spirit of all spectators. Get students to attend! Does the band know more than two songs? Probably. Have them play more music. Ever been to a UCLA game at Pauley Pavilion? Great pep band that is allowed to play. The free parking is great and is the best part of the fan experience. Can that experience move inside? More and better food, better seats, better scoreboards and better halftime entertainment will help. At Xavier, the team books a tough early season schedule every year, bringing in teams from the best basketball conferences. The Sooners need to raise the bar on their pre-league games. Fans will come to see Big 10/Big East/SEC/ACC teams and will realize that Oklahoma basketball is a thing. ESPN controls the schedule. Make those 8 p.m. games THE place to be that evening. When he was at UC, Bob Huggins would schedule 11 p.m. games to get on television and those games were the scene to make in Cincinnati and the experience was great. Play House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ at every game, at a key point in the second half. It fires up the fans. Watch and see.”


Let me address Mark’s concerns:

* Difference in student attendance here and in Cincinnati: it’s a massive cultural difference. This is not a basketball environment, despite long-term success. Football comes first, second and third. That’s not the case at Cincy or Xavier.

* Pep band: I’m no expert one way or another, but I would assume that pep bands don’t affect attendance in any way.

* Fan experience: the parking is hard to beat, though it’s probably frustrating for fans to walk past empty row after empty row of donor parking. The seats and configuration of Lloyd Noble Center, I’m afraid OU is stuck. The possibility of a new arena died about a year ago, and while Lloyd Noble probably could undergo a massive renovation, it would be hard to justify such an investment with college basketball’s national attendance trends. The scoreboard and halftime entertainment seem fine to me. Some of the halftime entertainment is the same stuff you see at NBA halftimes.

* Schedule: right on. OU plays a good non-conference schedule, but virtually none of those games are in Norman. Neutral-site games in Tulsa or Kansas City. Tournaments in tourist destinations. New York festival games. Play Minnesota or Wichita State or Stanford in Norman. I don’t know if the fans will respond. But for now, their pre-conference options are not good.

* 8 p.m. games are a killer. Virtually all are in mid-week. Those are hard on any family, even from Norman, much less from Oklahoma City. You can’t juice up a game enough to make 8 p.m. Wednesday at Lloyd Noble Center seem like the place to be.

* Jump Around: We know all about Jump Around down here. That’s not going to change anything. Music is not the problem.

Clay: “The LNC isn’t conducive to cheering for basketball. The seats are very low and challenging for anybody middle aged and above to stand up. They are comfortable. Most of the fans are older than you and I. Parking is free but a total hassle. Most of the areas require a special pass and then are 75 percent empty. Also, try taking an elderly person to a game and getting up the stairs or ramps. There is one small elevator available in the tunnel. I take my parents frequently and it is a serious challenge. Finally, for all schools, the 6 and 8 start times are very challenging for anyone living outside of the immediate college town. You work enough in OKC to know how long it takes to get to LNC if you are leaving after normal working hours; 8 o’clock solves that problem, but getting home at around 11 for north OKC and Edmond folks isn’t kid conducive or people with early jobs. I for one did skip the game Wednesday for this very reason. It is a difficult challenge for all universities. I’m still amazed by the absolute horrid student attendance.”

Interesting issue about the chairs. I wonder what OU could do to make the seating better, using the same bowl? I wonder if it was even possible, would it help?

Doug: “Your article Thursday was right on and is picking at a long-time scab -- these pitiful crowds at OU men's basketball games. The question was posed some on Twitter during and after the game. The responses and rationale on Twitter is worse than the home crowds, but I digress. As you stated, and as I have no knowledge, certainly the athletic and basketball administration(s) have tried so much. But I had a couple of ideas and wanted to hear your thoughts on these. They seem obvious so they've probably been brought up before. 1. Why not empower the ushers at LNC to help people move around. They should make certain games (perhaps weeknight games or awful non-conference games) general admission. Let everyone (and insist) move to the lowest level center court seats. Move the few hundred people that are in the upper tier down low. Have these ushers take them to premium seats. If a season-ticket holder shows up 10 minutes in, take them to their seats and move the two people sitting there to someplace else close. It just looks so bad on TV. Maybe that's just my Okie ego. It seems like they could move a few people to the lower-level center court and it would create more noise and would look better. 2. Maybe student volunteers and the basketball team should go to some local high schools and give tickets away? Do these guys go to the Greek community or on-campus clubs and ask them to come and support? Why isn't the entire football team at a Wednesday night game? I get kids have school work, but the other athletic teams should be at all of the other games and events trying to support each other. Maybe the basketball team should attend a women's gymnastics meet? 3. Can they ask Toby Keith to leave his premium seat to sing a few songs before the game or during halftime? Are there other local entertainment artists who could help raise the energy? How about Switzer, Riley and Stoops doing some basketball promos to drive attendance? As your article pointed out, it is disappointing for the players and coaches. I don't see how Oklahoma can recruit any big-time players who aren't born in the 405 and love OU. Or catch lightning in a bottle with the next Bohemian kid at a prep school in Kansas.”


Moving fans from the upper deck into the lower deck is a good idea, though heck, I don’t know if anyone even sat in the upper deck for that Iowa State game. And maybe this is already happening. Giving away tickets is not a good idea. Many of the unused seats have been sold. It’s getting people to use the tickets that is the problem. I assume OU is marketing at high schools, and maybe that could be enhanced. As for public relations on campus, it’s hard to imagine a better PR campaign than what Lon Kruger has tried. He’s gone to the frat houses. He’s opened his practices. He has his players walk around the court and shake hands with fans after practices and games. Getting Toby Keith to sing at halftime isn’t going to change anything. People want to support the program, they just are loathe to commit to actually attending the game.

Related Photos
Oklahoma's Alondes Williams (15), Jamal Bieniemy (24) and Kristian Doolittle (21) celebrate during an NCAA basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma's Alondes Williams (15), Jamal Bieniemy (24) and Kristian Doolittle (21) celebrate during an NCAA basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Oklahoma's Alondes Williams (15), Jamal Bieniemy (24) and Kristian Doolittle (21) celebrate during an NCAA basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]" title="Oklahoma's Alondes Williams (15), Jamal Bieniemy (24) and Kristian Doolittle (21) celebrate during an NCAA basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Oklahoma's Alondes Williams (15), Jamal Bieniemy (24) and Kristian Doolittle (21) celebrate during an NCAA basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›