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Tim Fuller on Mizzou Arena, basketball attendance

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We're continuing to explore some of the interview with former Missouri Coach Tim Fuller. Coach Fuller and I talked for two hours, and not all of the context of the interview was the same. So we decided to dice the interview up a bit and present some of his thoughts on other topics with a couple "Outtakes" posts.

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As part of the interview, I wanted to find out what Coach Fuller felt were the reasons Mizzou Arena has been so empty over the last few years. Even after making multiple trips to the NCAA tournament, non-conference games made arena feel like a ghost town, and mid-week games were often very lightly attended compared to other schools. Attendance is down all over college basketball, but it's worth talking about why Mizzou fans, after five straight years of making the NCAAs weren't coming out to support their team.


You did mention the 2012 tournament game and the disappointment of that season after such a great year. Having back-to-back disappointing finishes despite successes during the year, do you think that there was some goodwill with the fanbase that was lost from that along the way?

Well, I can't speak to what the fans, there or not there, what they were excited or not excited about. I will say this: we had 76 wins in three years, and at one point we had the longest home winning streak in the country. So for the most part, when we were at home, we put on a good show. We performed, we took pride in defending home court. So I don't know if the NCAA tournament exits had anything to do with the fans not coming.

I heard later on that the fans didn't feel connected to the team because we had so many transfers. I heard that fans didn't feel connected because we weren't out in the community. I can tell you this: Iowa State brings in transfers year after year after year. I've never watched a game at Hilton Coliseum where the place wasn't rocking and it wasn't an intimidating atmosphere. Now, they've had some runs in the NCAA tournament, but their fanbase hasn't dropped off, and they've had as many transfers or more than what we have.

I think you can find an excuse not to come, and we were asking to find a reason to come. I look at us this year after bringing in Kim Anderson, and he's a true son to the state, and the athletic department took him all around the state the whole first part of the year, meeting everybody, greeting everybody, and talking to everybody. And his first game out there, we had less than half the [arena full] for the UMKC game.

Yeah, I think there was about six thousand, maybe seven thousand people there.

So it's a 15,700-seat arena. So, where's everybody at? I'm not going to go off on early exits, I'm not going to go off of transfers, I just want to say there's a climate in college basketball right now where sometimes people just aren't as interested as you would like them to be in the product that you're putting out there on the floor. Unless you're at the level of one of those places that have historically always been sellouts and have always been at that certain level.

Do you think that having a 15,000-seat arena -- so when there's 7,000-8,000 people that show up, the place still looks empty -- do you think that's one of the challenges of being at Mizzou?

I think that Mizzou's facilities are top notch. I mean that 15,000-seat arena with luxury boxes, and that new scoreboard Doug Gillin helped us get in there, that is something that we used in recruiting over those other schools that we used to recruit against -- the Baylors, Oklahoma States, and other schools, even K-State and others of that nature.

We have the best facilities in the country. When we had guys come in this year -- Antonio Blakeney and Isaiah Briscoe, they're walking around looking ... George Briscoe, Isaiah's dad, said that if I closed my eyes and didn't know that I was in Columbia, Missouri, I could take this facility, and it could be one of the best facilities anywhere in the country.

So that gives us an incredible advantage. Having the practice facility, the weight room, the offices, the locker rooms, in the same facility where you play your games? It gives us an unbelievable advantage. So I would say there is nothing I would take away from our facilities.

What I do feel is a challenge -- and we've had talks with this -- is the way the Athletic Department combines the football and basketball season ticket packages for the students. It's something that ... when I was at Wake Forest, Wake was the smallest Division I school  at the time, the smallest Division 1 at the BCS level. There are 3,500 students.

You mean as far as enrollment?

How do we get 2500 of them to be loyal to us every single game, and come out and give us that advantage?

Yeah, enrollment. The student body. So you've got 3,500 to 4,000 students in undergrad, okay? So we figured out a way at Wake Forest, through ticket sales, through Tie-Dye Nation, through atmosphere, through engagement, to average a student section of over 3,000. Alright, some of that was grad students mixed in, but we had participation from 75% of the student body.

I can't say that from a marketing standpoint, since I've been at Missouri, there was ever anything geared toward ... from this 30,000 ... how do we get 2,500 of them to be loyal to us every single game, and come out and give us that advantage? Because when you have a student section, that's what propels your team.

The fans that come from Kansas City, the season ticket holders that come from St. Louis, I understand. If we play 6:00 on a Tuesday, you can't get there. It's just not going to happen. But there's no reason why we couldn't have more of a marketing scheme, more of a programmatic approach to engage the student body.

I'd like to expand on this a little bit more. Kim English is pretty prominent on twitter, and he's been sort of advocating for the athletic department to focus on -- you know on Saturdays you're always going to get decent crowds from Kansas City and St. Louis -- but for mid-week games, really focus on mid-Missouri. Do you think that the fanbase in mid-Missouri is strong enough to get 10-12,000 people there on a Tuesday night?

Well, I will say this, we definitely have to put a product out there that the fans are going to be intrigued by. Kim English is almost an adopted True Son, so he's way more familiar with what is possible out of certain regions. I will say this that when seats are empty, and people aren't showing up, that we should be able to have some sort of relationship with them that we can fill in those empty seats with people from the community. With either faculty or staff. And maybe that leads to them thinking, "Well, you know, I had a good experience this time, let me buy my own season tickets or at least come on my own to another game."

It is bad on television when it pans and they put the announcers right there in front of those vanilla seats -- and I don't know who decided to color those the color they did, but it shows up glaringly on television -- that there's nobody there. I can't speak to mid-Missouri as much as I can say there are definitely some creative ways for you to create a little bit more of an atmosphere.