By Philip Joens
COLUMBIA— Thousands of voices erupted in cheers at the end Missouri’s 57-56 conference win over Texas A&M at Mizzou Arena on Wednesday, but the cheers weren’t as loud as they could have been. Nearly 30 percent of the arena’s 15,061 seats were empty.
Attendance at Missouri’s home conference games was down 19.4 percent this year, dropping from 13,805 fans per game last season to an average of 11,140 this year. This year’s average is the lowest conference attendance since the 2007-2008 season, when the Tigers finished 16-16 and failed to make it to the postseason.
After the Tigers’ game against Mississippi State on March 1 Missouri coach Frank Haith said that his team doesn’t notice the empty seats.
“I thought the crowd was good on Saturday,” Haith said. “I don’t know what the numbers say I thought there was energy in our building and that’s all I focus on.”
Columbia was expected to receive six to 10 inches of snow that night and Haith guessed that kept a few fans away. The announced attendance was 9,403, the second smallest of the conference season.
Weather might have hurt attendance at a few games this year. An ice storm hit Columbia on the morning of Feb. 1 when the Tigers game faced then-No. 11 Kentucky. More than 11,700 fans attended that game.
Andrew Grinch, associate athletic director for external operations, concurred with Haith. “ Weather is one of the external factors we had this year that caused fans with tickets not to attend games,” he said in an email. Ticket sales numbers are typically higher than actual attendance numbers.
Heading into Wednesday’s game with the Aggies Haith remained focused on Senior Night for his players. With his team on the bubble and playing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Haith hoped a good crowd would get behind his team.
“I just want energy in the building and the people that come just to get here early and let’s pull for these guys,” Haith said.
Missouri didn’t give the 10,655 fans much to cheer about that night until the final minutes of the game. The Tigers trailed the Aggies for most of the game and seemed headed for another loss. After several good seasons, this year has been average, with the team holding a 9-8 conference record heading into the last game of the season.
Over the last five years attendance peaked during the 2011-2012 season when Missouri went 30-5 and was a second seed in the NCAA Tournament. Mizzou Arena holds 15,061 fans and fans filled 98.5 percent of seats for the nine conference games. An average of 14,839 fans saw Missouri go 8-1 at home.
Mizzou Arena sold out six times during the ’11-’12 conference season. The Tigers didn’t sell out a single game this season.
In 2010, 2011 and 2013 Missouri finished with identical records of 23-11. In each of those seasons Missouri had conference attendance of about 13,800 fans per game. The Tigers had good, but not great teams — during each of those seasons the Tigers were eliminated in the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite attendance being down as a whole, Grinch said that the arena’s suites were sold out for the year. He said that revenues remain strong and MU Athletics expected that men’s basketball revenues to be about as high as they were last year.