Analyzing Big Sky men’s basketball fans


Taylor Newquist

Attendance numbers are averages of conference games during the 2018-19 season, through Feb. 17. EWU ranked seventh out of 11 Big Sky men’s basketball attendance so far this year.

By Taylor Newquist, Sports Editor

The Big Sky Conference isn’t a premier stage in the ranks of Division I college basketball, but some team’s fans take it more seriously than others. Up to this point in the season, most fan bases have been taking it more seriously than EWU’s.

Out of the 11 teams in the BSC, EWU is ranked seventh in average men’s basketball attendance pulling in an audience of 1,271 people per conference game this year.

By comparison, the team with the highest average attendance—Weber State—brings in over five times as many fans as EWU for a team that is two places higher in the standings.

Weber’s assistant athletic director for external operations Ron Goch said that a long run of success in its basketball program is the reason why the school attracts so many fans.

“The Weber State basketball program has a winning tradition,” Goch told The Easterner via email. “(We have) a longtime, successful head coach in his 13th season and a strong commitment to provide our fans with a memorable experience so they can’t wait to return to the next game.”

While Weber may hold higher attendance numbers, there is a considerable difference in student population between schools in the BSC. Weber is third in student population with 26,000—over twice as many as EWU.

Schools with nearly the same, or lower student populations as EWU are Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, Idaho, Northern Colorado and Southern Utah. Of those schools only Idaho is garnering less attendance than EWU this year.

Ironically, three of the schools with the highest student populations: Sacramento State, Portland State and Northern Arizona all fall into the bottom four schools for basketball attendance. Sac State has the largest population with 30,670 students and are last in attendance, with 681 people per game.

Taylor Newquist
Student populations of schools in the Big Sky. Of the top four schools for student population, three of them rank in the bottom four for average men’s basketball attendance. Montana has the highest average attendance as a percentage of student population.

Brynn Molloy, UM assistant athletic director for marketing and community relations, said that the amount of things that students and community members have to do plays a major role in attendance numbers.

The Grizzlies are second in the BSC in basketball attendance averaging 4,389 people a game, and MSU is fourth with 3,085 people per game. Molloy cited UM’s football games as an example.

“On football Saturdays the stadium itself becomes the fifth largest city in the state,” Molloy told The Easterner in a phone interview. “It’s the biggest show in the state of Montana.”

UM’s stadium regularly fills up with 25,000 people for football games. Molloy said the same type of effect translates to the basketball team, but on a smaller scale.

It is hard to gauge just one parameter for what drives BSC basketball fans into the stands. A university’s proximity to metropolitan areas with populations over 150,000 is a trend consistent with Sac State, PSU and EWU. But it doesn’t explain the dwindling support for NAU that has the fourth highest student population, is located in Flagstaff, Arizona (a city of approximately 72,000) and is still the third lowest attended basketball program.

A mix of a successful program with the university’s location is the most likely formula for driving in fans. EWU director of ticketing and operations Nicole Guerra has some ideas for boosting the Eagles’ numbers.

“We’re trying to decide if we have games at a later time if that gives people in Spokane an opportunity to come out here,” Guerra said. “We’re trying to figure out if our prices are too high.”

Guerra graduated from EWU and said her experience as a student was that if it was cold or snowy outside she wouldn’t want to make the trip over to Reese Court.

“I lived in symnacut so I wasn’t going to walk over,” Guerra said. “I suggested to the marketing team that we should have a bus that every game travels to the dorms to pick up students. As a young lady, heck no I didn’t want to walk at night.”

EWU has two more home games this year on Feb. 28 against Sac State and March 2 against Portland State. Last year EWU averaged 1,835 people in attendance for the last two games. That average is more than the Eagles have had at any game this year.

Maybe Spokane only has enough room for one basketball team, with Gonzaga shining as the No. 2 team in the nation and selling out its stadium game in and game out.