Column: Hoops Attendance

For the first time in seven years, the Aggie basketball team does not appear to be headed to post-season play barring a hot run in the Big 12 Conference Tournament. But what is even more concerning than the losing record is the dwindling Reed Arena crowds. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop discusses issues of pricing that have led to the smaller attendance figures.

No, this isn't about the team. Yes, I was not happy with the team's horrendous shot selection in the first half, but this isn't the purpose of my rant. I'm sure you think I'm going to rant on the attendance. I was as shocked as anybody that only 6-7k showed up for Kansas. Even in the Days of Melvin, fans came out for Kansas. I guess people were curious what good basketball looked like.

But now, people have seen good basketball and are no longer curious...or that curiosity stops at $15 and does not extend to $30.

No, my rant is on Robert Cessna and every other A&M AD administrator who spouts off that the issue of attendance is not price because a week before the game the AD offers a 2 for $10 ticket promotion if you go buy a pizza at Double Dave's.

Our AD has routinely done this through the years and it never works. Why? A sporting event can no longer be supported by walk-up sales like it could in the pre-Internet, pre-every game on TV, and the pre-entertainment at your fingertips 24/7 era.

Last minute promotions don't work. For any of you with families or if you are simply a professional, would you change your plans and make the 90 mile drive if you heard that Double Dave's was offering a 2 for $10 special. already made the decision to go home or go to a sports bar and watch the game on TV.

Attendance at sporting events hinges on season ticket sales. The most critical sales period is in August, September, October...not 72 hours before a game. If you have season tickets, you are invested in the team and in the season. My 74 year-old mother and 76 year-old father drove up from Houston for an 8:00 PM tip-off because they now have season tickets and they planned weeks if not months ago that they would be coming up and they built their schedule around it. If thy did not buy season tickets in the fall, what do you think the odds are of them deciding this week to drive up for the game when it's on ESPN2....the odds are zero!

Our AD thinks an effective sales model is to send out season ticket brochures to donors with season ticket prices that rival the top teams in the Big 12 and the nation and hope they get a good response. When Aggies see the price and donation and throw the brochure in the trash, you've lost those fans for the entire season. Oh, you may get them to show up for one Saturday game during the season, but by and large you've lost that potential customer and they aren't coming back because of a pizza roll special that is announced 72 hours before a game.

And I'll tell you this, if you think Reed Arena is empty this season...if the AD does their same ole' routine and send out season ticket renewals at current rates....which when you add in donation that average price ranges from $45-$70/ could get ugly. OK, go ahead and try to sell a $70 ticket to see A&M face the whiz kids of Arkansas Tech again after a 5-13 Big 12 season. Not going to happen...

If the AD doesn't REDUCE prices and start an aggressive campaign to retain and attract season ticket holders, attendance will be worse than in the Watkins era because while Watkins' teams were bad, a small hardcore group like myself were willing to keep season tickets when prices were $12-15/game. At $45-$70, that simply won't fly.

If it were me, I'd aggressively start a season ticket sales campaign. I'd reduce face value prices to $18/game and I'd run a promotion throughout the offseason selling prime donor seats with a special two-year waver of the annual donation for the seats.

In conjunction, I'd also do something aggressive as a fan appreciation deal to show gratitude for the existing season ticket holders...whether that be free parking for a year and provide a coupon card good for a free drink at each game...gotta throw them a bone for sticking in there.

In this age of every game being on TV or the Internet along with hundreds of entertainment options, you simply can't send out a season ticket brochure and expect your arena to be filled unless you are Kansas, Duke, UNC, Kentucky, etc.

I remember when Byrne initially raised basketball prices after that first good season. He said, "That's what North Carolina charges for their tickets."

And in my best Lloyd Bentsen voice, "Sir, I've seen North Carolina...and you are no North Carolina."

For better or worse, this is Texas A&M and the AD must market and price the product to the A&M market. Maybe, just maybe if years of appropriate pricing and a decent run on the court, then maybe A&M can slowly become a UNC over a period of many years. You can't turn into UNC overnight, and you certainly can't sellout Reed Arena with a pizza promotion the week of the game.

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