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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA basketball fans ranked second best in Emory University study

Tyler Besh /  Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tyler Besh
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona basketball fans have always had the reputation of being most devoted. Now they can prove it, seeing as a study by marketing professors at Emory University ranked the Wildcat’s faithful fans as the second best fan base in college basketball.

Several weeks ago, Emory professors Manish Tripathi and Michael Lewis released a study of the most equitable fan bases in college basketball. Arizona fell to Louisville. The report reviewed information spanning between the 2001 and 2011 basketball seasons.

“For the study, we looked at the number of sellouts compared to the team’s performance and compared to the average ticket price,” Tripathi said. “Louisville had slightly more sellouts and the fans were paying slightly more money for the tickets.”

While last season didn’t count for the rankings, the trend seemed to continue as the Wildcats led the Pac-12 in attendance by a significant margin.

“When you think of college basketball on the men’s side, it doesn’t take you very long to put Arizona on that list,” Athletic Director Greg Byrne said. “There is no question that the UA Wildcats men’s basketball program has been a top program for some time.”

“I was only here for one year of that study, so I can’t take any credit. It’s our fans, it’s our coaches and it’s the job coach Miller has continued to do.”

Tripathi said that he wasn’t very surprised to find Arizona is number two.

“We tried to have little expectations, going into the study,” Tripathi said. “But when you look at the numbers it makes sense.”

But, a strong basketball fan base doesn’t equal strong athletic support as a whole. While the basketball program ranks at the top of the list, the Arizona football fans, especially students, are known for their lackluster attendance at football games.

“We are looking to find ways to get the students to come to the game and stay throughout the game,” Byrne said. “We’re only talking about six or seven weekends per year.”

When the Wildcats bring football recruits to the game during a weekend visit, Byrne said it could affect them negatively if the student section is only half full come halftime.

Overall attendance was a problem for football. Even with a shrunk stadium since the north end zone was closed for construction, Arizona only topped 50,000 in attendance in three of the eight home games in 2012.

While an 8-5 record last season under head coach Rich Rodriguez was a good start, sports management Professor Jim McLean said winning is the key to gaining fans for any sport.

“It helps to have the type of [basketball] program we’ve got,” McLean said. “If you got a winning team and a winning program and a winning coach and a legacy of sorts which we have it certainly doesn’t hurt. There’s a lot of marketing and communications.”

McLean said that the buildup of the program over a long period of time helps the team continue to sell out during the down years, because fans are still confident the program will eventually begin winning again.

But marketing and branding a team don’t always come down to performance on the field. Director of Marketing Ben Chulick said that a lot of the marketing that is involved in branding the team comes from the introduction video. The team uses a lot of the former players and past success to market to the fans, which is especially the case for basketball, where former head coach Lute Olson shows off his 1997 national championship ring at the end of the video.

Chulick also said the recent hiring of former Arizona basketball star Damon Stoudamire as an assistant coach has helped the team with marketing because he was a popular player.

Once everything is added up for the men’s basketball program, it didn’t come as a surprise for Chulick that the program ranked so well nationally, he said.

“I wasn’t surprised, I was actually quite pleased,” Chulick said. “I think that we here in Tucson know that we have a passionate fan base for our men’s basketball team. It was exciting to see someone recognize that.”

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