Kahliel Spear stands in front of the student section waiting for an inbound pass against Wright State. Photo credit: Justin Newton

OPINION: It’s time to work on drawing more people to the UPMC Events Center

Colonial Crazies, where are you?

March 21, 2022

It’s no secret what the number-one goal of a venue is: getting people to fill the seats. Whether it’s for a sports game, concert, or another event, the goal is still the same. For the UPMC Events Center, the goal is to get people to the arena to watch Robert Morris men’s and women’s basketball. However, that wasn’t exactly the case this season.

Both teams struggled to draw attendance from both students and regular fans alike. Multiple factors went into this, but the biggest factor was the performance of both teams.

More than anything, when a team wins, fans have more incentive to go to games. On the flip side, people tend to overlook the idea of watching their team play, both in-person or on TV, when the team is struggling.

Does anyone remember 2020? Robert Morris wins the Northeast Conference Championship in a sold-out UPMC Events Center, the students storm the court, and everyone goes crazy. What an unbelievable moment that was. Fast-forward two seasons later, and the magic has seemingly run out.

The average attendance for the Robert Morris men’s basketball team at the UPMC Events Center during their most recent season (2021-22) was 891 people. The Events Center seats 4,000 people. The Colonials men’s basketball team drew home crowds of 1,000 or more people four times throughout the season, including two in a row to end the season.

The attendance issues of games have been well-noted in the past, as Sentry alum Jon Fisher wrote an open letter to the Crazies back when the Sewall Center was around in 2014.

The numbers get worse regarding the RMU women’s basketball team. However, what shocks me is that they finished with a better record and got to host a Horizon League tournament game. Despite all of that, the crowds were never very good, as the average attendance for an RMU women’s basketball game was 301 people. Again, the Events Center holds 4,000. During the most recent season, the highest attendance for a game was 782, which was the home-opener against Akron on Nov. 13, 2021.

So, those numbers are not very good, but the biggest question is: Why does this happen? More factors could include having home games over holiday breaks/weekends, COVID-19 and the lack of campus-wide interest. Those numbers also do not account for the number of people who leave the building at halftime. In my one season of being able to attend RMU basketball, the students have arisen as the main culprits of this.

On the weekends when everyone goes home, sure, there won’t be a lot of students there. However, with several of the Horizon League home games coming during the school week, there is no excuse for students not to pack the house.

The “Colonial Crazies” student section was never consistently packed throughout the 2021-22 season, which is a shame. The two outliers that come to mind are when the Colonials beat Milwaukee by 24 points on Jan. 27, 2022, and when RMU was defeated by Antoine Davis and Detroit Mercy on Feb. 9, 2022. During those two games, the student section at least looked filled, but a majority of the students were sitting down, leaving after getting some free “swag”, or left at halftime regardless of the score.

This is another issue, as although the on-court product may not be to their liking, the off-court product also doesn’t interest them enough to stick around. The two may go hand-in-hand at certain points, but the UPMC Events Center and its staff can’t exactly do anything about how the basketball teams play throughout the year, and it’s not like they had no promotions during the season.

All they can do is upgrade the fan experience and atmosphere inside the UPMC Events Center to try and get people to first come to the games and, next, stick around to cheer on the teams. It can be hard when the teams are losing, but if a solution isn’t created, the numbers could potentially go lower than last season’s, which would be bad for both the venue and teams, who wouldn’t have much “home crowd” support.

This atmosphere could be improved by simply giving people a good deal, whether on tickets or at the concession stand or even bringing in a big opponent. Time is something that people don’t like to waste, I can assure you. Making someone’s time feel warranted and used productively rather than feeling like their time was wasted is huge. My example is the “Triple-Double Nights” that RMU Athletics did throughout the season. It’s a good start, but it comes back to “How can you keep fans in the building once they’re in?”

UPMC Events Center
Mackenzie Amalia dribbles the ball in front of a mostly-empty student section. Photo Credit: Tyler Gallo

My answer? Publicity. The use of social media, video packages, or anything that you can use to get eyes on your product or what they (UPMC Events Center) have to offer (basketball/volleyball games). The effort to try and “connect” with the fans is also a big factor.

Getting the fans to know who these players are is a big deal, in my opinion, and “The Mo You Know” does a little of the trick there, but those don’t reach as much of an audience. Could half of the RMU students on campus name an RMU basketball player besides Kahliel Spear? Probably not.

It may not be that egregious, but allowing the fans to create a personal connection with the players, or even just informing them on who they are and what they do for the team, is a future step in the right direction. The men’s team got a 3-star recruit, T.J. Wainwright, to commit to playing basketball for the Colonials. That is a huge deal and something that all parties should try and capitalize on. It is something that, personally, has me excited for the upcoming season, so why wouldn’t it excite a casual viewer or student? Following up on that, how many people know that RMU landed a 3-star recruit besides the die-hard basketball fans?

Now, despite everything I’ve said, I don’t think it would take too much effort to at least try some of these things. I am 100 percent aware that COVID-19 and the move to the Horizon League may have derailed some of these ideas and that the athletic department has done a lot of these things already and need to continue, but now more than ever is the time to try.

They may only be able to do so much based on the teams’ performance, but both teams fight and compete until the clock hits triple zeros. This next season will be exciting for the Colonial basketball teams as the UPMC Events Center looks to spike attendance numbers again.