Men’s Basketball: Attendance continues upward trend in 2015-16

Ben Pope, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

Long a laughingstock for its small crowds when compared to the rest of the bigger, more sports-rabid Big Ten schools, Northwestern is slowly filling more and more of Welsh-Ryan Arena on game nights.

The Wildcats averaged 7,680 fans per game in their nine Big Ten home games in the 2015-16 season, the highest average since 2002-03, the earliest point for which individual game attendance figures are available.

The team averaged 6,914 fans per game for their entire home slate, slightly more than last season and one of the highest average totals since data began being kept in 1977-78.

After Sunday’s regular season-ending win over Nebraska, a game attended by 7,702 fans, coach Chris Collins praised the effect of this year’s intense atmospheres on the team’s on-court success.

“The crowds this year were fantastic,” Collins said. “The students and the fans I noticed this year … was huge for what we’re trying to do. It’s something that’s been (in) the vision of our program.”

Three sellouts — against Maryland on Jan. 2, Michigan State on Jan. 28 and Illinois on Feb. 13 — filled 8,117-seat Welsh-Ryan this year and at least 7,000 were in attendance for all nine conference contests. In non-conference play, crowd sizes slipped below 6,000 only twice: against Fairfield on Nov. 18 and against Sacred Heart on Dec. 21.

NU recorded a 14-4 overall home record and a 5-4 conference home record, finishing the year with a four-game winning streak in Evanston.

Those numbers are a big change from as recently as 2010-11, when the team averaged just 5,291 per game (lower than all 18 games this season). In 1977-78, the team averaged a measly 2,943 per game.

Only Rutgers’ Louis Brown Athletic Center is smaller than 64-year-old Welsh-Ryan among all 14 Big Ten basketball venues, and only one other school, Michigan, plays in an arena with a capacity under 14,000. That disparity in size coupled with NU’s historically small crowds has given the university a less-than-flattering reputation for its athletic support.

However, that reputation may soon be changing.

“Our marketing staff getting people in the seats and being enthusiastic is a big reason why we won five games in the league at home,” Collins said. “Kudos to the fans.”

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