Regional games failed to court many fans
Sweet 16, Elite Eight contests saw27% decline at neutral- site venues
dallas » Therewere a lot of empty seats at the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament regionals.
The NCAA sa wits lowest attendance for the regionals in 20 years, and there is no change to the format in sight.
An average of 4,719 fans showed up for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in the four neutral- site venues. That’s down 27 percent from last year and nearly 50 percent from 2014, when the games were played on campus sites. In 1997, an average of 4,252 fans came to the regionals.
This year’s numbers were bolstered by the Bridgeport Regional, which sold out both days UConn played there. No other site had a local team playing.
“We continue towork as hard as possible to support strong attendance at regional sites,” said Anucha Browne, the NCAA vice president for women’s basketball. “The challenge is taking some great teams that have real strong attendance on campuses and move them across the country so that their fans can travel with them. It’s not a logical approach to grow our game.”
The Stockton Regional had three East Coast teams play in it, along with Oregon State. South Carolina and Florida State met in the final Monday night with only 3,134 fans in attendance. The Gamecocks have led the NCAA in home attendance the past fewyears, drawing an average of 12,277 fans this season. However, few wanted to make the cross- country trip to California.
Oklahoma City had a strong matchup, with Baylor facing Mississippi State— the top two teams in the region. Yet only 3,128 fans attended Sunday night’s game. Lexington was even worse, with 2,527 fans coming to see Notre Dame face Stanford.
“We have a unique situation that needs to be handled,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I’m not saying I knowwhat all the answers are, but there’s certain places in America that there’s a lot of really good women’s basketball fans, and there’s a lot of places that it’s not. So to put regionals in those places doesn’t make any sense.”
The numbers aren’t all bad. The attendance at the first two rounds of the NCAAs was the third highest in the last 10 years. The Final Four and championship game in Dallas are virtually sold out for the first time since 2014.
South Carolina, left, and Florida State warm up beforeMonday night’s regional final game – and a lot of empty seats – at Stockton Arena in Stockton, Calif. Rich Pedroncelli, The Associated Press