|Kentucky hoops remains the hottest and hardest ticket in college basketball. (Getty Images)|
In terms of average attendance per home game, Kentucky has once again set the standard in college basketball. Sixteen of the past 17 seasons have seen the Big Blue Nation finish first in attendance-per-game at their home arena.
It's especially an impressive number when you consider the fact Syracuse -- a top-five team all last season -- can squeeze twice as many people into the Carrier Dome as Kentucky can at Rupp.
The NCAA released the numbers Thursday. The Wildcats drew 23,721 supporters on average, besting Syracuse by 103 fans per game (23, 618). Kentucky also set an single-season record for overall fans-per-game, as the team's 22,148 number for its 40 games (this seems really low, considering all the bodies in the house at the Final Four) came out to a total of 885,953 fans. The previous record? Held by Syracuse, of course. The Orangemen saw 855,053 fans flock to their games back in 1989.
John Calipari took to Twitter in the wake of this news to give another campaign boost to his program, and remind fans that this is exactly why he won't schedule Indiana at Indiana.
Big Blue Nation has true meaning as an NCAA record total of 885,953 fans watched our 40 games this season, breaking Syracuse's 1989 record.— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) May 10, 2012
We have a responsibility to provide the #BBN the opportunity to see us play. That means not just games but experiences in large arenas.— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) May 10, 2012
These sort of records and figures mean a lot to Kentucky's fan base and to Calipari alike. They're reinforcement and tangible evidence that UK is the biggest and best college basketball program; they're a boastful, at-the-hip talking point. They hint at transcendence. Anything to hammer home just how dominant Kentucky is in every facet is more material for promotion and recruiting for the program.
The way our future schedules are coming together, we might shatter that record in the near future. #WeAreUK— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) May 10, 2012
And Kentucky's fans have earned it. Big Blue's institution has never been higher or more high-profile than it is right now. And it's not likely to dip in the near-future, not as long as Calipari is coach.
As for attendance in other areas of the sport, it's a mixed bag. The NCAA tournament's figures were up -- a very good sign -- increasing by 736 fans per game. As a whole, though, college basketball's attendance-per-game during the regular season was slightly down, dipping to 31 less fans per game. Not a huge number, but it isn't growth, and if anything just another (minor) slight against college basketball's regular season. Perhaps tied to this figure is the number 5,069. That's how many regular-season games were played last season -- a college basketball record.
Here's the top 10 in attendance, with average attendance in parentheses:
- Kentucky (23, 721)
- Syracuse (23,618)
- Louisville (21,503)
- North Carolina (20,159)
- Wisconsin (17,181)
- Creighton (16,665)
- Tennessee (16,543)
- Ohio State (16,511)
- Indiana (16,462)
- Kansas (16,445)
Bravo, bravo, Tennessee fans. First-year coach at a football school in a down year with no NCAA tournament expectations and you finish seventh? That's surprising as hell. Inversely, South Florida made the NCAAs despite little fanfare; the Bulls averaged a miserable 3,849 fans per game, the worst per-game average of any major-conference school. (Yahoo's Jeff Eisenberg has more tidy facts about the figures here.)Here's the link again to all the attendance data. Admittedly wonky stuff, but if you're a critic or a supporter of college basketball's influence or general national interest, I think it's worth scrolling through. The report has info on every school and every tournament site. If you want to see the trends, good or bad, I really recommend it.