Basketball Attendance Back Up

FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas, former athletic director Frank Broyles in particular, received plenty of criticism for the firing of former basketball coach Stan Heath. Back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances weren't enough in years four and five for Heath for one main reason — money.

Revenue and actual attendance was down Heath's last two seasons. So if a business turnaround truly was a crucial cause for bringing in a new coach, Arkansas' athletic department should be encouraged by John Pelphrey's first season in Fayetteville.

Actual attendance jumped 10.7 percent for games played in Bud Walton Arena this season, an increase of 1,539 fans per game compared with last season. Attendance shot up 16.4 percent for nonconference games and 7.1 percent for Southeastern Conference contests. The overall average of 15,860 per game was the highest since Nolan Richardson's last season as coach, barely higher than the 2004-05 average of 15,788.

Jeff Long, Arkansas' athletic director, said the atmosphere "has been great" in Bud Walton Arena. He also believes it can improve. "Going forward, I think we can make it better," Long said. "I think we can engage our students in a more meaningful way to be a bigger part of the game, and work with our student leaders to organize our student fans and get them more engaged."

While Long already is pondering ways to generate revenue for the future, he can be pleased with this fact. The basketball program's revenue should be up for this season, as well. Tom Dorre, Arkansas' associate athletic director for business, said he wouldn't want to estimate revenue at this point, not until the department's books close June 30.

But by looking at season ticket sales, it's apparent that revenue will show an increase. Mark Scobey, the department's ticket manager, couldn't be reached Monday but a department spokesperson confirmed season ticket sales for this season were around 15,800. That'd be up 6.8 percent from last season's number (14,779).

The university also added 12 luxury suites to Bud Walton Arena for this season, and those lease agreements alone brought in $210,000. There are now 47 luxury suites in the arena, and those are all spoken for.

Tickets are not. Up until five seasons ago, sellouts were the norm at Bud Walton Arena. Now, the Razorbacks are again back on their way to building that kind of commitment from their fans.

In the short term, an improved nonconference schedule next season should help attendance grow again. Texas and Oklahoma will visit Bud Walton Arena for the 2008-09 season, though it's unsure yet how many quality opponents Pelphrey will be able to bring in annually.

For now, though, officials in the department are pleased with the progress. During the three-game stretch in which Arkansas beat Mississippi State, Florida and Ole Miss, Matt Shanklin said it "felt like the good old days."

"I think in comparison to the last five or six years, it's gotten louder more often this season," said Shanklin, Arkansas' associated athletic director for marketing and licensing. "As the team has continued to progress, there have been more occasions of the crowd being loud and into the game.

"If you put this program in the Sweet 16 couple of years in a row, you could start to replicate the enthusiasm (of the mid- to late-1990s). And with the style of play (Pelphrey) has brought in, that's also going to contribute to more fans in the future."

Attendance Figures

"Actual" attendances listed. "Paid" attendance figures are higher than the figures below for some games.

2006-07 — Arkansas averaged 14,321 fans for its 16 home games, 11,303 for its eight nonconference contests and 17,339 for its eight SEC games.

Opponent Att.

Southeast Missouri State 11,952

Stephen F. Austin 12,118

Missouri-Kansas City 8,052

Central Michigan 8,316

Oakland 9,271

Oral Roberts 14,338

Louisiana Tech 13,557

Tulsa 12,827

Alabama 17,935

Georgia 17,341

LSU 18,976

Kentucky 19,739

Auburn 16,952

Ole Miss 17,781

Tennessee 17,268

Mississippi State 12,724

2007-08 — Arkansas averaged 15,860 fans for its 16 home games, 13,157 for its eight nonconference contests and 18,564 for its eight SEC games.

Opponent Att.

Wofford 13,196

Delaware State 11,094

Missouri 18,621

Oral Roberts 12,721

Missouri State 11,956

Texas-San Antonio 11,901

Northwestern State 12,053

Louisiana-Monroe 13,714

Alabama 19,153

South Carolina 17,883

Mississippi State 17,927

Florida 19,881

Ole Miss 19,916

LSU 16,212

Vanderbilt 18,366

Auburn 19,173

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