COLUMBIA — Ticket sales are steady, all-sports pass sales are at their highest in three years, student ticket pick-up is above average and attendance is... down for the Missouri men’s basketball team?
Through the first four home games, the Tigers have drawn an average of 5,017 fans to the 15,061-seat Mizzou Arena. That’s down nearly 900 fans per game from the first four games last season.
Andrew Grinch, the director of marketing for the athletic department, called the trend “circumstantial,” largely due to the success of the Missouri football team, and is optimistic that Saturday’s game against Purdue will be different. The football team doesn’t play again until New Year’s Day and Purdue is Missouri’s most high-profile nonconference home opponent this season.
“Anytime you have both seasons going on, especially with the way football has been going, there probably is some correlation,” Grinch said. “But I think it’s in a positive way, for us to be having the success we are having in football and to be not far behind from where we were in basketball last season. I think we are in a positive situation.”
The athletic department has been releasing ticket specials, such as the Big 12 Bundle that includes an upper-level reserved seat at Missouri’s eight Big 12 Conference games for $179, but at this point is not preparing to do anything drastic.
Missouri has a history of poor attendance early in the season and especially against smaller schools. Home opponents this year have been Central Michigan, Fordham, Southern and Western Illinois. The latter two also bookended Thanksgiving Break and Western Illinois came to town the afternoon after the football team played a game in Kansas City.
Considering the external circumstances, Grinch said he is pleased with student attendance so far. Others see it differently.
Student all-sports passes sold at around 7,200 this season and about 2,500 of 3,000 student tickets were picked up for the first set of home games. The Zou Crew, the official cheering section, has increased to 1,125 registered members.
Against Western Illinois, a claim of 50 student fans in the student section would be generous. Zou Crew members were in the single digits.
Zou Crew coordinator Sarah Huebner, a sophomore, blamed the football game and closed residence halls for the low turnout. Residence halls re-opened at 1 p.m., the same time as the game, and Huebner said a majority of Zou Crew members are housed there.
Opinions differed among the Antlers, another student cheering group that has consistently had all 30 members at games this year.
“It’s been pretty poor and disappointing,” said Kyle Morris, a grad student and member of the Antlers. “I know we haven’t been playing the best opponents but it seems like we should be having better attendance for a team that showed a lot of improvement last season and looks like it could be a possible tournament team this year.”
And the Zou Crew should be held accountable, he said.
“I mean, they are given the best seats in the house and then they don’t show up for them,” Morris said. ”They need to have those seats taken if they are not going to use them.”
Huebner countered that the group takes attendance at games and gives incentives for attendance, such as prizes and priority seating for the Jan. 19 game against Kansas.
“If they don’t show up it is their loss,” Huebner said. “I think the section is fine as it is. They (the Antlers) always have something to complain about.”
The first rows of the student section are designated for Zou Crew but others are allowed to move down 15 minutes before tipoff.
Morris said the athletic department needs to do a better job marketing the games to students but, with every student ticket given out, Grinch said much of what he can do is work with the spirit groups and try to encourage the students who have tickets to actually use them.
“Ultimately they have the ticket in their hands,” Grinch said. “The importance is for students to come to the game.”