Mizzou Arena Excitement Fades
But after sputtering through a disappointing 16-17 season last year and struggling in the early season this year, Tiger fans are staying away from the hoops palace in droves. Through four home games, Missouri's average attendance at the 15,061-seat arena is just 6,661 -- a 1,784 per-game decline compared to a similar stretch last season, the team's first at the new arena. Admittedly, the caliber and box office appeal of opponents in the pre-Big 12 Conference season hasn't been the highest -- Sam Houston State, Northwestern State, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. But whether it's longtime season ticket holders choosing to stay home or new undergraduates opting not to purchase deeply discounted season passes, the thrill at the arena formerly known as Paige is decidedly gone. Until the final, frantic minutes of Saturday's 82-81 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi -- a Division I independent that didn't even have a team until six years ago -- the loudest cheers of the day were reserved for Tiger football players Brad Smith, Tony Palmer and Chase Coffman, who were honored at mid-court for their post season accolades. In the previous home game versus UMKC, the school's women's volleyball team garnered the biggest applause.
With a 6-5 football team falling short of many fans' expectations and a young and largely inexperienced men's basketball team projected to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, the volleyball squad's deep run in the NCAA tournament has sparked the most excitement among students, said freshman Ryan Wallace. "The big thing on campus is volleyball," he said during halftime Saturday, soon before the volleyball team was eliminated in the title chase by Tennessee.
Both Athletic Director Mike Alden and basketball Coach Quin Snyder noted that each of Missouri's 30 games this season are televised. Season ticket sales -- a number that includes student passes, which are issued in multi-game packages -- are down by 2,300 this year compared to last, meaning average Tiger fans have a much better chance of buying single-game tickets. Mario Moccia, senior associate athletics director, said season ticket sales for non-students are down by about 600 this year. With roughly 9,000 of those passes sold, that means thousands of ticket holders don't even bother to show up this time of year.
"What we've got to do is continue to promote the product, and you've got to hope the team performs at a high level that gets people excited about coming out to the ball game," Alden said.
Several fans at Saturday's game waxed nostalgic about the Hearnes Center, the 33-year-old shed where the decibel level far eclipsed the noise heard recently in Mizzou Arena. What it lacked in luxury suites, glitz and comfortable seats it made up for in intimacy and a more intense home court advantage, they said.
Junior guard Thomas Gardner agreed. "Hearnes is more of a college atmosphere because the students are closer (to the court)," he said after the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi game. "The Mizzou Arena is a beautiful place, but it's a little too comfortable. It's more like a pro arena."
At the same time, Gardner said he and his teammates pay little attention to the crowd noise, or lack thereof. The team instead seeks motivation from within. "It's just us out there. We're all we got, the players and the coaching staff," he said. "If the gym is packed or there's nobody in the gym, we know we have to play."
Snyder too said he's not concerned about the decline in attendance. Success on the court will translate into success at the box office. "Our team needs to keep winning," he said. "People are always going to get excited when you're winning."
For Snyder, there's added incentive to boost the crowd size at Mizzou Arena. If average attendance exceeds 11,000 in a season, he receives an extra $200,000 above his base deal, which pays more than $1 million annually. Last year, average home attendance was 9,941. In two of the previous three years -- all at Hearnes -- average attendance exceeded the 11,000 mark.