New O’Dome fuels attendance increase

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The NCAA released its annual Division I men’s basketball attendance report on Tuesday, and the new-look Exactech Arena/O’Connell Center resulted in a significant attendance boost for the Gators during the 2016-17 season.

The Gators averaged 10,690 fans in 10 home dates last season, above 100 percent capacity and more than 1,000 fans per game higher than the 2015-16 season (1,004 to be exact). Florida’s increase in attendance with the 14th highest in the nation and third highest in the SEC, behind just Missouri and South Carolina.

The attendance gains occurred despite a decrease in capacity of more than 1,000 seats as a result of the O’Dome’s $64.5 million renovation, which was completed last December. Certainly, the novelty of the new arena played a role in the attendance increase. So did Florida coach Mike White’s breakthrough second season, in which the Gators reached the Elite Eight for the ninth time in program history, going 27-9 overall and 9-1 in 10 home dates.

“The novelty is definitely a factor, but I don’t see novelty wearing off,” Florida associate athletic director for external affairs Mike Hill said. “The facility, it’s just a lot more enjoyable to be in the building. I think people want to be inside Exactech Arena now because it’s a pleasurable experience. The sight lines are better, the LED lighting, the concessions, the whole deal, it’s just a better fan experience.”

Certainly, the Gators embraced their fan support this season, particularly from the Rowdy Reptiles. Often last season, former Gator forward Canyon Barry and current Gator point guard Chris Chiozza would go into the student section last season to thank the students for coming out.

“The Rowdies are where the energy gets started in that building,” Hill said. “People recognize that, they have fun. Gosh, when we were looking to renovate the building and we toured the state and we talked to alumni and season ticket holders and donors, it was almost universal, don’t move the students, please don’t move the students because we love to watch them with the flash mobs and the dancing and the chants and the cheers and the energy they provide courtside.”

Hill said that the Gators are “on track” to do well in season ticket sales in 2017-18. Florida’s non-conference schedule includes home dates against rival FSU and Baylor.

“We’ve hit our sweet spot,” Hill said. “The perfect number of seats for what we need. We were sold out 8 out of 10 games last year and the two that we didn’t sell out we were just a couple of hundred seats shy of a sellout. I think we’re just in a really good position because we’ve got the right number of seats, we’ve got a great product, we’ve got a phenomenal facility and it’s where Gator basketball should be.”

Other notes:

— Florida sophomore center Gorjok Gak has left for his native Australia and will represent his country at the World University Games in Taiwan from Aug. 19-30. The 6-foot-11, 245 pound Gak has made significant strength gains during the offseason and will be counted on to back up Kevarrius Hayes at center for the Gators until John Egbunu’s projected return in early January.

 

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