Low attendance hurting Utes

S-Woops cropped2 Colby Patterson
Sophmore guard Danielle Rodriguez dribbles down the court in a nearly empty Huntsman Center. Photo by Brent Uberty.

Sophmore guard Danielle Rodriguez dribbles down the court in a nearly empty Huntsman Center. Photo by Brent Uberty.

Last week, head coach Anthony Levrets said Utah has some of the lowest fan attendance numbers in the Pac-12. With the Utes being ranked 11th in the league in average fan attendance, fans need to ask themselves one question — does the lack of fan base in any way affect the players and coaches?

“I think any time you have a great environment in a gym it makes it way easier to play,” Levrets said. “Whether you are the home team or the away team, you need to have a great environment or there won’t be a lot of energy going around in the gym. Basketball is a passionate, energetic, physically demanding sport, and having energy elsewhere in the gym always helps both teams but can give the home team a very nice lift.”

Except in one instance, Utah has yet to exceed over 1,000 fans in attendance for a game this season, averaging 818 fans per game within the John M. Huntsman Center — an arena that can seat 15,000. While filling the Huntsman is a lofty goal, it is not too ambitious to think the Utes can attract a crowd closer to the numbers of those at the top of the Pac-12. Stanford is first in the league with an average home attendance of 3,889 while Southern California is last with an average attendance of 776.

Utah has been trying new things this season to draw more fans to the games. This Friday, the Utes will be hosting No. 14 Arizona State in their first-ever blackout game — a ploy that has worked for other Utah sports. Utah has also held themed game nights, such as the Youth Night it hosted during the Stanford game or the “Christmas Game” it hosted in its last game before the holiday.

But what is it that brings fans to games? Is it more wins in the program like Stanford? Or is it offering your first few hundred guests free bacon, much like what Kansas State did in November for their women’s basketball game? Senior forward Michelle Plouffe would love to know the answer.

“That’s a great question,” Plouffe said. “I’m sure winning games would help. Last year we had a pretty good record, and we still were not getting that many fans. Maybe it is getting wins in the Pac-12. I guess fans would like to see us get wins against those teams, but I do not really know what will get them in here. If I did, I think there would be a lot more people here.”

The Utes came into the 2013-14 season as the 10th winningest program in the history of women’s college basketball. Since 1975, Utah has accumulated 833 wins and 353 losses, making a winning percentage of .702. To Levrets, that goes to show wins do not bring in the fan base, but bettering the program in every aspect does.

“It has always been the same around here,” Levrets said. “We are the 10th winningest program in the history of the NCAA, so it’s not winning more. It is something that we are working on and something that our marketing department is working on, but it has got to be a commitment by all of us all the time. It is something that we have been working on because our kids are important, and they deserve to have that kind of environment like the rest of the places that we compete at.”

b.barlow@chronicle.utah.edu