UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Gators see rise in attendance during win streak
Published: Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 8:30 p.m.
Florida's current 24-game home win streak has not only generated prestige for the school's basketball program.
It's generated more fans in the stands as well.
Florida finished its non-conference home schedule with an average paid attendance of 10,458, a 17.3 percent jump compared to UF's average non-conference home attendance a season ago (8,913).
And Wednesday night against South Carolina, Florida set a school record for student attendance, with 4,182 students among the paid crowd of 12,147.
“The students really made the difference,” Florida associate athletic director Mike Hill said. “A year ago, our only weeknight SEC game that exceeded that was Kentucky. We averaged maybe 10,000 for our weeknight SEC games last year.”
Hill said that season ticket sales are up five percent from last season, UF's biggest increase since the back-to-back national championship seasons in 2006 and 2007. A number of other factors also have contributed to UF's attendance increase this season, including a strong non-conference schedule and favorable dates. Florida has played five of its first nine home games on either Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and none of UF's home weeknight games have tipped later than 7:30 p.m.
The schedule sets up well for the Gators going forward. Florida has just one weeknight home game that tips at 9 p.m. (Feb. 4 vs. Missouri) and five weekend games with afternoon tips (Tennessee, Jan. 25, 4 p.m.; Texas A&M, Feb. 1, 4 p.m.; Alabama, Feb. 8, noon; LSU, March 1, 4 p.m.; and Kentucky, March 8, noon.)
“It shows the importance of times and dates when it comes to scheduling,” Hill said. “People think if the stands aren't full there isn't fan interest in Florida basketball. There's great fan interest in Florida basketball. But given our market, people having to travel from Jacksonville, Tampa, Ocala, Orlando, it can be hard to get to games if the times aren't convenient.”
The Gators also had a pair of marquee non-conference home games against Florida State (the night before the Florida-FSU football game) and Kansas (SEC-Big 12 Challenge). Next season, Florida will face Connecticut at the O'Connell Center in the return of a home-and-home series.
Hill said the Gators tied three-game ticket packages to UF's two marquee home games this season (Kansas and Kentucky). To buy a Kentucky three-game package, fans had to buy a non-conference game that wasn't Kansas or FSU and one other SEC game. To buy a Kansas three-game package, fans had to buy another non-conference game and another SEC game that wasn't Kentucky.
“We did it to protect our season-ticket holders, for the investment that they made, and to prevent opposing fans to buy single-game tickets,” Hill said. “In the Kansas game, we had it where the majority of the crowd were either season-ticket holders or ones who bought the three-game packages.”
In front of the bigger crowds, Florida has managed to continue to play at a high level. UF's current 24-game home win streak is the third best in Division I, behind Stephen F. Austin (26) and Duke (25).
“First and foremost, it's a testament to (Florida coach Billy Donovan) and the product that he puts on the court each night,” Hill said.
While Florida fans at the O'Connell Center have been able to watch its last two wins in person, those trying to watch at home haven't been as lucky.
UF's last two games have aired on CSS/CST. While available on Cox Cable (Channel 259), the Richmond game and SEC opener against South Carolina weren't available to area viewers who subscribe to Dish Network and DirecTV.
The good news? Florida has no games scheduled to air on CSS/CST the rest of the season. Of UF's final 17 games, 14 will air nationally on their CBS or the ESPN family of networks. Florida's next game Saturday at Arkansas will air on ESPN2.
Hill said with the advent of the SEC Network next season, conference games will no longer air on CSS/CST. Whether the SEC Network will be available on Dish Network on DirecTV remains to be seen, but Hill said the network is in negotiations with a variety of providers before its August 2014 launch.
In other words, stay tuned.