NCAAs = More Ticket Sales
That Appears To Be The Case For JMU’s Basketball Team
HARRISONBURG – After an unlikely run to the Colonial Athletic Association title and an NCAA Tournament appearance in March, the James Madison men’s basketball team has parlayed that success into something that really counts: the box office.
As of Thursday, JMU had sold 1,100 men’s season tickets, a 7.8 percent increase over the final figure of 1,020 last year — and packages are on sale into January.
It’s a modest increase, but considering that Madison’s average attendance actually dropped last season, it’s a hopeful sign for a program that has struggled to attract interest since the Lefty Driesell era two decades ago.
The Dukes’ success in 2012-13 – a 21-win season that culminated in an NCAA Tournament play-in victory over LIU Brooklyn before a blowout loss to No. 1 seed Indiana in the second round – might be the chief reason for the bump.
“Like I’ve said many times, I feel that we’re going to use last year as a springboard for years to come,” JMU coach Matt Brady said Thursday after practice at the Convocation Center. “Not to say that we’ll be able to accomplish that every year, but that is the specific goal that we have in mind.”
Ticketing director Mike Carpenter said another reason might be a new sales strategy that guaranteed 2012-13 prices for this season. The school started a preseason process, Carpenter said, that allowed fans to put down a deposit of $50 for men’s tickets and $25 for women’s tickets instead of paying a lump sum for the full season-ticket packages price. Those prices now range from $75 to $200 for men’s games and $30 to $120 for women’s games. (As it turned out, prices did not go up.)
Carpenter said 180 people put down deposits for either men’s or women’s tickets.
“It locked people into pricing from last season as well as just got our momentum started a little bit earlier, so that we had a couple hundred folks who were already committed preseason before we even knew our schedule,” Carpenter said. “Once we announced our schedule, then we rolled out our full season ticket push and have been growing it since then.”
The Dukes will be young – Brady will coach the second-youngest team in the country this season, including seven freshmen, while missing star guard Andre Nation for the first 15 games due to a suspension.
James Madison was picked only seventh in the CAA preseason poll, but that apparently has been outweighed by last winter’s success.
“There has been a lot of interest based on last year’s results as well as the fact that we’ve got a pretty new cast of characters, and I think people are interested to see how they’ll all mesh together, as well as the returners who have got a little bit of a following between Andre and some of the new faces that were there last year,” said Carpenter, who expects between 100 and 200 more people to purchase season tickets before sales close in January.
JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne did not return a call seeking comment.
On the women’s basketball side, Carpenter said JMU has sold 1,030 season tickets this year, up from a total of 800 last year. Kenny Brooks’ team was predicted to finish No. 1 in the conference at the CAA media day on Oct. 22.
The women’s team also benefits from the stardom of senior guard Kirby Burkholder (Turner Ashby High School), who was voted the CAA Preseason Player of the Year.
While both programs have a solid base of community support, JMU has lacked in student attendance in recent years. During the 2012-13 season, an average of 546 students attended men’s basketball games, up from 355 in 2010, but by no means great at a 20,000-student school.
“I think it takes being on the national stage for it to really take hold,” Brady said of consistent fan support. “I know that happened at George Mason when they went to the Final Four; it was thereafter that their program really reached the high level of support in the surrounding community and the student support. I think there’s more we can do here, but I certainly think last year is the barometer of success for us.”
With Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason gone from the CAA, the league’s attendance figures slipped last season in men’s basketball. On average, just 3,072 people attended games.
Among the new cast of Colonial schools – Old Dominion is gone now, too – JMU would have ranked second behind only the College of Charleston. But, even with that, the Dukes half-filled the 7,156-seat Convocation Center, averaging 3,334 people per game. Charleston drew 3,873. Madison’s women’s basketball team averaged 2,157 people per game.
How bad was student attendance? A microscopic 2.8 percent of the JMU student population attended men’s home games.
“I’ve said this repeatedly in private meetings on campus and with my staff and our own players, you can’t have consistent success at the college level unless the student population is completely on board,” Brady said. “We have to find creative ways to engage the student population if we’re going to have consistent success.”
JMU has given away TVs on occasion to lure students, and Carpenter expects a big student section when the Dukes raise the CAA championship and NCAA Tournament banners on Nov. 19 against Detroit.
The men’s team tips off at Virginia on Nov. 8; the women’s team also opens the season on Nov. 8 at home against Virginia.