Did you know that the performance of BYU's basketball team at the Marriott Center has improved significantly over the last eight years — including the last two? And this year’s performance is better than any of the past decade except 2010-11, Jimmer Fredette’s senior year.
Don’t believe me? Wanna bet?
It’s true. Attendance at BYU home games is significantly higher this season than any other recent season, except that unusual, special Year of The Jimmer.
OK, so I tricked you. You hear the word “performance” and you think wins and losses.
But I’m a businessman. I can’t help but look at dollars and cents. And this year, the numbers are pretty good at the turnstiles. Cougar Tails — those delicious, BYU Food Services-produced maple bars — are flying off the racks before halftime at the Marriott Center and they keep adding new Cougar Club parking lots.
Those are certainly good things. But before we get to breaking down home attendance and on-the-court performance, let’s get a national perspective on that hallowed, caffeine-free basketball venue named after J. Willard.
A College Basketball Destination
When you think of basketball hotbeds worldwide, places like Tobacco Road, Lawrence, Kan., Lexington, Ky., Middle of Nowhere, Ind., or even New York City’s famed street courts come to mind.
But what about beloved Provo, Utah?
A few weeks ago BYU’s Marriott Center was nominated for “Best Road Trip Destination” in college basketball in a contest put on by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Geico and CBS Sports.
The nomination cites Provo’s year-round beauty, campus activity, and the loud, raucous Marriott Center crowd on game day. There’s no mention of tunnel singing or ballroom dance, thankfully.
The contest winner will be announced during a college basketball show April 6 on CBS Sports, surely wedged between confusing ads involving people who are impossibly happy after their car breaks down, and reptiles (maybe amphibians?) who miraculously speak but with a grating Cockney accent.
The nomination also pointed out that the Cougars have won more than 93 percent of their games in the MC under head coach Dave Rose.
But fans and opponents already know what a great home environment the Marriott Center is. And despite a lackluster year from BYU in terms of on-home-court performance this season, the place is still formidable.
This even after BYU moved its student section and confusingly renamed it "ROC," or Roar of Cougars. It's pronounced “rock,” not to be confused with the hilarious Fox TV show of the 1990s or the Republic of China (aka Taiwan).
Marriott Center attendance is up at an impressive clip
Fans know this season’s home slate includes a loss to a middling-at-best San Francisco squad, and a dagger-through-the-heart, half-court, game-losing shot by a ferocious, mouthpiece-sucking dude from Australia.
But what many BYU hoops supporters may not know is that attendance is up at an impressive clip. As you’ll see from the chart below, the Marriott Center fan count is up by a thousand folks, or nearly 7 percent.
Sure, some of that could be credited to the new Cosmo Kids program where cheapskates can get tickets to two games “for their kids” at a heavily discounted rate. (I bought two, and it’s a great program for the little ones.) But that doesn’t change the fact that the athletic department and ticket office is getting incremental ticket and concession sales and continuing the growth trend.
And they’re doing it despite the fact that every home game is now competently televised in glorious high definition (except on satellite) on BYUtv. For the “afternoon” crowd that means a tough choice between the temperature-controlled living room BarcaLounger and a 25-cent can of Kirkland brand imitation Fresca vs. a trip into sub-freezing temperatures and a $6.50 watered-down, caffeine-free Diet Coke.
BYU’s home attendance last year (and likely this year) is higher than the average attendance in any conference in college basketball. Oh, and higher than 10 NBA teams.
The chart below shows BYU basketball’s Marriott Center attendance over Dave Rose’s tenure (with actual numbers in the table in the next section). That steep incline is a good thing, freshman.
Here’s that same chart with home attendance for the University of Utah’s basketball team overlain for comparison purposes. And for fun.
Attendance and wins running contrarian in Provo
But it’s not all good news on the homefront. While attendance is up, wins are down. By percentage, they're down a lot.
You’ll note from this table that BYU went through a remarkable stretch from 2005-01 where it gave up a mere five losses at home in six seasons. Performances like that are why the #winning hashtag exists.
But since the translation of The Jimmer to the NBA, things haven’t been so hunky-dory in Happy Valley.
With a loss to Gonzaga at home this year likely, the Cougars will have given up six losses in Provo over just the last two seasons. For some low-level Pac-12 programs that might be acceptable or even enviable. But on campus in Provo it’s digression — and borderline transgression.
Keep bringing the Marriott Center magic
So, the bad news is BYU basketball isn’t performing at the stratospheric levels it reached in the recent past. And a game in Provo isn’t the automatic BYU W your kids might have gotten used to seeing.
But the good news is despite that (hopefully) temporary trend, fan support remains strong, and the Marriott Center atmosphere is still one that’s enviable.
So if you're a BYU fan, keep bringing the noise and the little ones, and look toward a future home-court advantage that could be as magical as that of the recent past.
If you need some encouragement, look no further than a few high school home courts in BYU’s backyard. (We're looking at you, Lone Peak High.) Better get those future season tickets locked up early.
Ryan Teeples is a respected marketing and technology expert, full-time sports fan and owner of Ryan Teeples Consulting Inc (www.RyanTeeples.com). You can reach him on Twitter @SportsGuyUtah.