116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — The tipoff time for Thursday’s Indiana-Iowa men’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena is 8:07 p.m., which means this:
There will be empty seats, and probably more than a few.
It doesn’t necessarily mean interest in the Hawkeyes has decreased. It does mean many fans have reasons to be inclined to stay home.
In the 2000-2001 season, each of the then-15,500 seats was sold for every home game. The lowest home season average for men’s games since Carver opened in 1983 — not counting last season’s fan-less COVID-19 season — is the 11,635 of 2010-11. It was 12,869 two seasons ago.
Iowa’s average announced home crowd this season is 10,963. That will rise with nothing but eight conference games left on the slate, but the three remaining 8 p.m. games aren’t likely to help much.
We can list a lot of other reasons why fans might not be coming. Carver isn’t the most fan-friendly arena. The pandemic certainly doesn’t help. The team, 1-3 in the Big Ten, has some winning to do to capture some buzz.
Here’s where your resident know-it-all would propose possible solutions. The thing is, there may not be any of real substance to offer unless you think the school would make major changes to accommodate its students and bring in more of them. Maybe someday.
Quite simply, the dominant factors in crowd size are the starting times. When Iowa hosted Maryland on Jan. 3, the announced crowd was 10,327 and there were considerably fewer people than that in the arena. There was a time when the thought of Carver being half-empty for any Big Ten game was unimaginable.
The reason the crowd was so small was the game being at 8 p.m. on a Monday, on the heels of a holiday week.
This is winter in Iowa, after all, and the games are on television.
The Big Ten has all its conference games on BTN, an ESPN network, FOX, FS1 or CBS. With 14 members, that makes for a lot of games, multiple games almost every day from New Year’s until the end of the regular season. They’ve been scheduled to make the traditional 7 p.m. starting time in the Central time zone obsolete.
Iowa’s biggest announced home crowd this season easily was the 15,056 for its Dec. 29 game against Western Illinois, certainly not a marquee opponent. That the game was played during a holiday week helped greatly, and its 7 p.m. tip made it even more palatable.
The 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. weeknight games the Hawkeyes and other Central time zone league teams typically get are hard on fans. Either it takes too much effort to get to the arena on time for the early games, or the late starts are too taxing for people to get home at a reasonable hour.
“You know, 8 p.m. on a Thursday night is tough for someone who wants to drive over from Des Moines,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said this week. “We all recognize that. We wish they could be better, but that's when the games are.
“There are a lot of things you would like to see done differently. Everybody wants Saturday home games. Can't always get them.”
The days of everyone playing every Saturday are long gone. Every game is a television property, and the networks and league don’t want them bumping into each other. Typically, two to four Big Ten games are played on Saturdays.
Iowa’s lone Saturday home game of the season will be next week, against Penn State. Barring inclement weather, fans will show up, happy the television gods gave them a day and time that were merciful to them.
From a business sense, the only reasonable choice is for the conference to take the enormous money the networks give it to air its “inventory.” But at what long-term cost? Won’t the connection and interest the fans feel gradually be reduced as they attend fewer games in person?
On Wednesday afternoon, online ticket broker StubHub had over 100 tickets to the Indiana-Iowa game available from $6 to $10. The cheapest adult tickets at the UI athletics box office are $15.
It’s a buyer’s market. It has been for a while, and that’s the way it likely will stay. Your attendance is desired, but your convenience is of no concern.
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