Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

What Advantage? Attendance Down 14%

If you thought that Verizon Center seemed less crowded this year than in past seasons, that’s because it is. Attendance at Georgetown home games has fallen by more than 14 percent from a year ago.

While the No. 11 Hoyas (18-5, 8-4 Big East) have soared in the polls despite modest preseason expectations, their crowds have not experienced a similar rise. And barring a dramatic turnaround — unlikely with only three home games left in the season — the Blue and Gray’s average attendance, which ranked 25th in the nation last season, will tumble at least 10 spots in the national rankings.

Student sections, which are located behind each basket and make up a large proportion of the Verizon Center crowd, have seemed sparse this season. And back on the Hilltop, the lack of preseason hype and series of weak nonconference opponents are cited as reasons why students haven’t made the trek to Gallery Place to cheer on the Hoyas.

“I think more than anything it came to the fact that we had no expectations coming into the year,” said Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14), the communications officer for Hoya Blue. “When you graduate your top three guys, you’re not preseason ranked, you’re preseason 10th in the Big East, there is less excitement.”

But even after Georgetown started winning, the crowds still didn’t come. The Blue and Gray proved their mettle at the Maui Invitational over Thanksgiving break, where they nearly bested then-No. 14 Kansas and defeated then-No. 8 Memphis.

But when the Hoyas returned from Hawaii, they weren’t greeted with a pleasant “aloha” but with the lowest Verizon Center attendance since 2006. A paltry crowd of 6,854 watched Georgetown dispatchIUPUI Nov. 28.

“The schedule has something to do with [the low attendance]. And the lack of a big game early on, that was part of it,” Andrew Wojtanik (SFS ’12) said. “Not having one of those did not get people excited enough.”

Certainly some of the teams Georgetown played early in the season, like Savannah State and the hapless New Jersey Institute of Technology, aren’t going to bring vast numbers of casual fans to Verizon Center.

“It’s tough to get students out to the first games,” David Weis (COL ’14) said. “Who wants to go see games against NJIT or IUPUI or whatever it is?”

But in the past two years, early-season dates against teams like Tulane and UNC-Asheville — not much better than this year’s nonconference foes — drew crowds of more than 10,000.

One common reason given for small crowds is the difficulty of getting to Verizon Center, since there is no direct shuttle service to the arena.

“The fact that we don’t have an on-campus arena, there’s no way to solve this next year,” Ramadan said. “But a month into the semester, you’ve got to make a half-hour trip to Verizon Center and two hours for the game and then half an hour back. For some people, that’s just not worth it.”

Still, getting to the Rosslyn station and making a transfer to the red line has been the predicament for Georgetown fans for several years, and that hasn’t held down crowds in the past.

“I don’t think it deters people,” Weis said. “When there’s a will, there’s a way. And that’s just part of Georgetown’s location.”

Regardless of how students get to the games, the effect of a large home crowd cannot be debated. For instance, a comeback win against Marquette on Jan. 4 was attributed to the announced attendance of 11,213 — an unusually strong figure for a game over the students’ winter break.

In an email sent to season ticket holders after that game, Head Coach John Thompson III wrote, “Wednesday night’s game was an exciting event of which [season ticket holders] were an important part. Maintaining a great game atmosphere during the university’s holiday break is a challenge and with [season ticket holders’] overwhelming support, we met that challenge.”

The Feb. 1 game against Connecticut, thought beforehand to be the season’s biggest home contest, attracted a season-high crowd of 15,174.

“We had great attendance for the Connecticut game,” Wojtanik said. “I wish we had more games like that. We have one or two left, like Notre Dame, but they aren’t ranked.”

Still, the Hoyas broke the 15,000 mark much earlier in previous seasons. In 2011, they attracted a crowd of 15,712 for a Jan. 12 game against Pittsburgh, and in 2010, the Blue and Gray drew 15,654 on Jan. 9, also for a game against the Huskies.

Despite tallying a 14-point win over Connecticut, Georgetown failed to improve its crowd numbers for the next game.

The announced crowd for last Saturday’s game against South Florida was the third lowest for a conference game while school was in session over the last three seasons. The only two games with smaller crowds were last season’s contest with St. John’s, which coincided with a messy evening snowstorm, and a 2010 game against Villanova, which came as the city was digging out from more than two feet of snow.

That low figure came despite Hoya Blue’s promotion of free doughnuts for the first 500 fans in attendance, part of a concerted effort by the club to try to boost attendance.

“We’ve been working with the athletic department to do promotions. The last game before break, we gave out Metro passes,” Ramadan said. “We gave out doughnuts before the 11 a.m. game [against South Florida].”

But focusing on basketball games is a shift for Hoya Blue, which usually doesn’t have to whip up enthusiasm for the school’s flagship athletic team.

“With Hoya Blue, our job is to worry about the non-basketball sports. [We] worry about the lacrosse game,” Ramadan said. “So this year has been a little different for us, realizing that people aren’t showing up [to basketball games].”

Despite the efforts, some students doubt that the promotions really have an effect on attendance.

“I don’t really think it’s encouraged people to go out,” Weis said. “It’s a nice bonus. But people don’t go because of free Metro passes or doughnuts.”

One factor working against Georgetown’s figures this year is the absence of a marquee matchup against Syracuse. This will be the first season the Hoyas haven’t played host to the Orange since 2006-2007. There is also no comparable game with a national powerhouse, such as the 2010 contest with then-No. 8 Duke.

Hoya Blue also organized only one road trip this season — a Jan. 15 jaunt to New York City to see Georgetown take on St. John’s — instead of the usual two. A weekday date also made a bus ride to Syracuse impossible.

“We had two buses, with 100 people total, to St. John’s,” Ramadan said. “With the St. John’s game, it was a bit awkward with the Martin Luther King weekend and a Sunday, so we went with 100 instead of 150 people.”

But as Georgetown looks to clinch a double-bye into the Big East quarterfinals and earn a high seed in the NCAA tournament, die-hard fans are hopeful that students will help bolster the team in their final three appearances. Students are likely to camp out for the Feb. 25 game against Villanova, which has been designated a “Gray Out” by the Athletics Department. And perennial rival Notre Dame will be the visitor for Senior Night on Feb. 27.

“We will see bigger crowds. These are really good teams to play. Villanova, not because they’re good but because it’s ‘Nova. And Notre Dame, also, because they are a good team,” Weis said. “But capping off a great season, I expect crowds.”3687277751

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