Was it a mistake

To even build bud walton arena? Or was it a mistake it so big and seat so many? I remember barnhill. Loud, intimating, fans right on top of court. Robkin leading the band, the noise meter stick that lit up. Waiting list and hard tickets to find. Students camping out for seats. Yeah we might sell out bud Walton a couple times a year but that’s about all. Games lately have been like preseason tournament games in Hawaii or peurto Rico. Yeah we got the suites but they are half empty for the most part. What can be done about this ? Do the students fill their section? Why not offer free seats to all students? Are student tickets free? Do the coaches go to frat and sorority houses asking for support or are we too proud to beg. Does the u of a do anything at all to really market the basketball program. Why not invite groups to fill up upper deck, high schoolers say, or veterans, or less privileged groups, and after first ten minutes let them go down and try and fill out lower deck. Let parents w kids in, 3 for the price of 1, something like that. Advertise it on radio, bo’s show or the sport talk shows here in Little Rock. We need to do something. Free pizza, pictures w coaches or players, anything to get fans in the seats. We were nearing a high when Walton was built. Probably made it too big. And now Apathy as far as attendance has definitely set in. And it looks like we finally have a good team, a real basketball team. Surely the u of a can do something.

The only thing that is going to fill BWA again is a change in mindset. Not by the university; by the fans.

Right now the following things are true:

  1. Virtually every game is on TV or at least streamed on the internet. “I don’t feel like driving up there tonight, so I’ll just watch the stream.” If that’s the case, handing out pizza is not going to help; you can eat your own pizza sitting on your own couch.

1a. Basketball is a weeknight sport. You have to really want to go, and have an understanding boss (or be the boss yourself) to make it to BWA from Little Rock for a 7 p.m. tip on a Monday night. So marketing in Little Rock isn’t going to help much.

  1. Our fans want to see games against teams they’ve heard of. Fort Wayne is a darn good team. So is UT-Arlington on Friday night. But they’re no names. So even though 13,000 people bought tickets, only 4,270 show up last night, and 7,000 or so for the opener. (See #1). I don’t understand this viewpoint, but it’s there. The games against cupcakes can be a lot of fun. I was there when Rotnei Clarke set the school single-game scoring record against a cupcake. If I’d said “oh, this is a no-name, I don’t think I’ll go,” I would have missed that performance. Another example is the night we scored 166 against USIU (I missed that one because I had to work). Would have loved to see that one too.

  2. So since both of these are true, the size of the arena is pretty much immaterial. If we were in Barnhill, there still would have been 6,000 empty seats last night. At least this way they’re selling 13,000 tickets, even if they don’t get used. 3-for-1 promotions assume people will use the tickets they’ve bought. Once again, buying tickets isn’t the issue. Using them is.

  3. Student tickets are virtually free. Any student who bought the access pass for football (which is $80 for the year) gets basketball for nothing. And there were like 10,000 students for the Bama football game. So the students are acting like the rest of our fans – they have tickets, but they don’t show up either. I have no idea what would happen if 10,000 students decided to show up for a basketball game. My guess is they would fill the student section (which IIRC is 2,500 or so) then cut it off. Maybe not if 5,000 showed up for a game like last night though; just let them all in to sit wherever.

There was a waiting list at Bud Walton Arena, too, for several years. They didn’t overbuild, Arkansas just underperformed for too long. Then when you add in the proliferation of games on TV and the quality of the sport declining, you get the attendances like last night.

I don’t think the attendance is the result of a lack of trying from the UA’s marketing department. I see those guys doing everything they can to get people in the doors. They are offering a $159 season pass this year that guarantees you a seat at every game. Most season ticket packages cost $450 per person and typically include a donation. Season ticket sales are up this year, evidenced by the 13,000-plus tickets sold last night. The onus is on the fans to show up after they have bought the ticket. There were some 9,000 tickets sold that went unused last night.

I still feel very strongly, and I think this is what is going to happen, when they do the makeover for BWA it will downsize a bit. After the north end zone expansion is finished at Razorback Stadium, the basketball arena is next from what I understand. The master plan that was presented a few years ago has pretty much went right on schedule with what they presented at that time. Bud Walton Arena is supposed to receive quite a bit of work in the concourse area, more space, and more concessions and restrooms. Some upper level seating is more likely than not going to be eliminated. The Washington Redskins have done this, Cleveland in baseball, Tennessee in college basketball have done this when it was determined the arena was just too big. We had a perfect storm in the 90’s to fill 19,500 seats for about 2 years. After that it became mostly a conference game, then a weekend conference game. If we become a once again consistent top 10 or 15 program, I could see it getting to that point again. Maybe some 10-15 thousand non conference crowds. It’s not going back to averaging 19,000 a game. Any other time in our history that we would have built a new arena, even during the Sutton years the new capacity would have probably been around 15,000. That would have been a 50-60 percent increase over Barnhill. They started out talking about 17,000 for capacity for BWA so that Frank Broyles could say it was bigger than Texas’s arena, and it just kept rising. After the novelty of the new arena wore off, and the team started trending down, that upper deck began looking more like an albatross than a thing of pride.

That is my belief, too. I think Tennessee added a lot of suites when it renovated TBA, and I could see Arkansas doing the same.

I don’t know how much of the work at BWA will be downsizing and how much will be upgrading the concourses (which badly need the upgrade after 23 years) and making BWA suitable for concerts. They could make some decent money leasing BWA to concert promoters, but right now it’s not built for that.

Having said that, I would not be surprised if they decrease the total capacity and increase the number of premium seats.

One other thing that may happen. They’ve talked about building a small (5000 seats or so) arena for volleyball and gymnastics to replace Barnhill, but they may decide it would be cheaper to use BWA for those sports than to build an entirely new facility. They appear to have decided that Barnhill’s days are numbered and it’s not worth maintaining/renovating any more. Now that basketball has a practice facility, BWA can become more of a multi-use arena – multiple sports, concerts, etc. Right now it’s basketball, graduation and the Walmart stockholder meeting, basically.

There was a visiting reporter recently that viewed all of our facilities and wrote and article on them. In that article, he said that Bud Walton, when renovated soon, would be downsized. It was the first time I saw it reported that clearly.

Yeah, that was Chadd Scott of Gridiron Now (his wife, sports business analyst Kristi Dosh, was giving a speech at UA and he tagged along).

I posted the link to that article (discussed above) here, and the primary reaction was criticism because it took 15-18 (or whatever) clicks to get through it! :roll:

Not sure how anyone who can’t muster the energy to click through a very positive PR piece like that has much room to criticize folks for not making it to games on a week night.

Just sayin’ . . .

The u of a is doing all it can. When the bud was built every game wasn’t on tv, and now since they are, oh well. We might downsize a bit, when who knows. The schedule is below par as far as name teams. So far not one idea to increase attendance. The fans have to change. Lol. Well I’m a fan and I do agree that our performance in basketball has stunk since Nolan left. However being from Little Rock I make 2 or 3 games a year. Never have a problem getting prime seats for 3 or 4. So I guess the answer is, it is what it is, just get used to seeing empty seats, no crowd noise, etc. Going to a funeral later this week, might be more lively than the crowd last night. However, might be good practice for my next visit to bud Walton.

Agreed. It was very positive publicity for us. It was also arranged very poorly on the website. He really didn’t need to post a picture of them cooking catfish in the Jones Success Center to get his point across.

These are all things I’ve thought would be worth looking into doing. They did a package that was like $150 for all 18 games with an upper-deck ticket that varied by game and demand. That was a smart initiative, but I think they could do more with initiatives on a game-by-game basis to get people in the upper decks for cheap.

Early season games are often hard to attract people. I was a sportswriter in Oklahoma during the Billy Tubbs’ days, i.e., the Oklahoma-Kansas national championship game year (1988?). They had a proven team that drew very well for Big Eight (yes, Big Eight) games but early season did not draw nearly as well. One year, I covered Oklahoma City’s All-College December holiday tournament which featured OU and OSU and two other teams. Some band was there post-Christmas playing Christmas music which prompted Tubbs to say after his team had played poorly and won by 40, “The only thing that played worst than us was the band.”

That doesn’t answer the question about BWA, but I’m sure the UA of doing all it can to entice people to come in November and December, including putting a better product on the court.

College basketball is a lot different now than it was when BWA was built. In those days, every new college arena was cavernous (UNC, Tennessee, Kentucky, etc.). Because of all the changes, that’s no longer happening. Smaller is better now.

What’s different? Some of this was mentioned before, but bears repeating: Every game is now on TV and you can see one almost anytime; Big name opponents are hard to come by; there are fewer big-name players (one and done rule).

Things are different at Arkansas too: nearly 20 years of struggles with only flashes of big-time success; revolving door on the head coach’s office; local traffic (as an NWA resident and season ticket holder, I can say that this is a HUGE factor because 7 p.m. weekday games are nearly impossible to get to before tip off). I think downsizing the BWA capacity in the remodel is an outstanding idea. It will never again be like it was in the mid '90’s.

IMO, when renovated, it should be downsized. I know many don’t care, but the new arena at Ole P–s is just about the same size at the old one (appox 9,500) with more amenities. Includes large eating and drinking area for premium ticket holders plus a couple of other “fast food type” things that are open even when games are not scheduled. Also, have used it for concerts and other events. When you are there for BB game you feel like you’re right on top of the playing floor.

When Auburn built it’s new arena 5 or 6 years ago, it was actually less than the capacity of the old arena. Went from about 12,000, which was never very full, to 9,000.

Wow. That’s quite the shot.

There are numerous types of packages instead of just the full season ticket one so your statement they are not trying is simply inaccurate.

There’s stunk and there’s not up to par. The former has happen in a few years, the latter in some, but most of the time Arkansas has performed exceptionally well at home.

So I don’t buy that as an excuse not to attend games at BWA. Maybe tournaments, road games, etc, but not at BWA.

The last several years very few have come in Nov. and Dec. and it has picked up in Jan.

They are not crowds like they used to be, but there have still been plenty enough to keep Arkansas in the top 20 nationally.

Sorry for your loss that has you attending a funeral. Been to too many of them myself lately

I looked more into the Tennessee arena and my guess is that will be the model Arkansas follows. Thompson-Boling Arena was built to hold more than 24,000 six years before Bud Walton Arena. When it was renovated in 2008, seating capacity was reduced by about 3,000 and several new suites were added. The suites are an impressive view from the floor level there. Its renovation satisfied consumer demands for more suites while still keeping a capacity large enough to feel like a big-time venue.

I thought Nate Olson made a good point in his commentary that we published today. He wrote about Arkansas’ floor-level seats and how those made $2 million in guaranteed revenue over five years, and that more suites would have a similar result. Arkansas is losing money not only by having empty chairs in the upper level for most games, but also by not providing the suites that are in demand. So I think that will absolutely be addressed in the renovation.

Matt those suites aren’t floor level at Tennessee, they took out the entire upper level seating along one sideline. That arena has a huge upper deck, really cavernous when it was first built, and the seats were all orange. Empty seats really stood out. When they remodeled they replaced the orange for black seats, which created a more upscale look and the empties don’t show up as much. The upper level portion that runs along the sideline was completely removed of seats on one side and replaced with either 2 or 3 levels of suites, I’ve seen it in person before and after. That side now looks a little like Phillips Arena in Atlanta. It’s amazing what a difference the atmosphere is there now, or at least back a few years ago (was there in 2007, the year it was redone). They also reshaped the slope of the end zone seats where the students sit to bring them closer to the floor. It looks like they took out more than 3,000 seats, I would have guessed around 5,000, but it made it a much better atmosphere, and visually better setting.

Sorry I misread your post, I thought you were saying the suites were floor level, but you were observing them from floor level. My apologies. It has made TBA a much more impressive interior though.