Jason Ivester

State of the Hogs: Win and They Will Come to Bud Walton Arena

Bud Walton Arena had plenty of empty seats this past season, much like many seasons over the past two decades. So is the Arkansas basketball arena too big?

Someone brought up the attendance at Arkansas basketball games in the last couple of weeks. Long gone are the sellouts and the waiting lists for games at Bud Walton Arena.

I recall sitting in a lunch at the 1993 NCAA tournament in Winston Salem, N.C., with Frank Broyles. Administrators from Wake Forest and North Carolina State were asking him about the size of the new arena that was being planned at Arkansas, to be opened the next season.

“We've got a wating list of 32,000 for tickets,” Broyles said. “I think it will hold in the neighborhood of 19,000.”

Basically, Broyles was telling them he was going to build an arena to hold twice what the Hogs were selling out. Barnhill Arena held 9,200. The brass from those Atlantic Coast Conference schools at the table thought Broyles ambitious.

I can recall the decision to build Bud Walton Arena. It came about when Broyles gave up his four season tickets in the heart of the arena, presenting them to Bud Walton. From then on, Broyles and wife Barbara sat in folding chairs in a walkway just above the scoreboard hanging in the northwest corner of the arena.

I also recall a meeting that was called between Bud Walton, Nolan Richardson and Broyles. Broyles asked for about half of the $30 million that was thought to be needed for the new arena.

Afterwards, Richardson was miffed. Why didn't he ask for all of it? Richardson thought Walton was ready to cover the entire cost.

There was also talk about why the arena wasn't going to be bigger, to make room for everyone on the waiting list. I understood why Broyles wouldn't do that. You do think about supply and demand so that you can charge for priority seating plans. You want the arena to be smaller than total demand.

Of course, it seems obvious now. The Hogs can't sell but about half of Bud Walton Arena for season tickets. Here's the numbers for the Mike Anderson era at Arkansas as far as tickets sold, not just season tickets. Clearly, it had been on the rise until this season when the Hogs lost Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls to the NBA draft to help deplete the roster. The Hogs enter the SEC tournament at 16-15, 9-9 in SEC play.

2016 -267,825 (14,879 for 18 games)

2015 - 294,860 (15,519 for 19 games)

2014 – 280,465 (14,023 for 20 games)

2013 - 261,242 (13,750 for 19 games)

2012 - 275,020 (13,096 for 21 games)

As far as tickets sold, there were four games that topped 16,000: Kentucky, 18,588; South Carolina, 17,106; Missouri, 16,617, and Mississippi State, 16,246.

So what do you do? One idea is to rope off the top level of Bud Walton Arena and only sell the bottom. Basically, you could reduce the number of seats to something that would sell out. That's been done at other SEC schools. Some places have hung curtains in the areas that aren't needed.

I hate that idea. And, I think Anderson's teams will eventually pack Bud Walton at some point in the future. I think next year's team will be significantly better than this season.

I've got confidence in Arkansas fans. They support a winner. They flock to a winner. It's like that in any sport.

I point to Dave Van Horn's baseball team as a prime example. Fans pack Baum Stadium in a way not thought possible when the stadium was first built. Now, it doesn't look like it will be long before more seats will be needed. Right now, all that's needed is a good weather forecast for Baum to sellout and the overflow to fill the Hog Pen.

When football is rolling, Reynolds Razorback Stadium isn't big enough and will be expanded soon. Bud Walton won't be big enough at 19,200 when Anderson gets it going.

I've always said that Bud Walton Arena is a great insurance policy for hiring coaches. There are not many buildings like it. Of course, now there is also a great practice facility across the street to help build the program.

The thought of roping off the top section of Bud Walton Arena just is a bad idea. The Basketball Palace of Mid-America is not too big. For anyone to think that is not to understand Arkansas fans. They will come, if the team wins.

Someone asked about the atmosphere in Bud Walton Arena for a few early games when this team was still feeling its way along with so many players filling new roles. The arena was not rocking. Fans were blamed.

No, it's up to the team to encourage fans. They'll get the place to rocking if the team is rocking.

Bud Walton Arena is not too big. Arkansas fans are top notch. They just need the team to step up to the top shelf.

Some say build it and they will come. No, that's not really the way it works. That old line should read: Win and they will fill it.

Arkansas was 13-4 at home this season. That's not what it takes to fill Bud Walton Arena for a basketball game.

It's still a good atmosphere and a tough place for the visiting team. But there will come a time in the future when Bud Walton Arena is rocking and the Hogs don't lose any games there. And, when it does, Bud Walton Arena won't be big enough – again.

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