UTEP Athletics Home Attendance Dips to Alarming Level
For years, attendance at the Sun Bowl and Don Haskins Center for UTEP football and men's basketball games have been near the top of Conference USA. However, two months into the 2016-17 season, it is safe to say that UTEP should be more than a little concerned with its fan support.
In fairness, the picture above is from today's men's basketball scrimmage against Southeastern Oklahoma State. The game is being played today, and the easy excuse is that fans do not come during NFL games, especially when it involves the Cowboys. However, Dallas is not in action until later this evening against Philadelphia. Last year, the men's basketball team averaged 7,386 fans per game, which was 64th best in all of Division 1 and tops in C-USA. Old Dominion was next in the conference, averaging just over 7,000 fans per home game. Over the six years Tim Floyd has been UTEP's head men's basketball coach, average attendance has been up and down each season, but always tops in the league since Memphis left for the American Athletic Conference.
Here is the breakdown for UTEP games at the DHC:
2010-2011 8,959 per game in 22 home games (25-10, 11-5 C-USA)
2011-1012 7,341 per game in 16 home games (15-17, 7-9)
2012-2013 8,490 per game in 16 home games (18-14, 10-6)
2013-2014 8,088 per game in 21 home games (23-11, 12-4)
2014-2015 8,458 per game in 16 home games (22-11, 13-5)
2015-2016 7,386 per game in 18 home games (19-14, 10-8)
When it comes to football, it has always been a struggle to get fans to the Sun Bowl to watch the Miners. In 2004 and 2005, UTEP received a ton of national attention and they were ranked in the Top 25 when Mike Price delivered back-to-back eight win seasons and a pair of bowl games. The Miners averaged 41,209 fans per game in 2004 and 47,899 in 2005. They still drew 42,444 to the Sun Bowl in 2006, coming off of those great seasons, but that is 10 years ago. Take a look at these pictures of the East and West side of the Sun Bowl from last night's homecoming came against Old Dominion.
One week ago, UTEP had won a dramatic 5 overtime thriller on the road in San Antonio against new rivals UTSA. Despite the exciting win, the school could not break the 20,000 mark against Old Dominion. Since 2002, the lowest attended homecoming game for the Miners had been 23,234 against Tulane in 2012. The official attendance for last night's homecoming game was 19,254. I cringe to think what the announced crowd will be next Saturday when the Miners host Houston Baptist.
ABC-7 did a sports story about the declining attendance at football games and interviewed me to weigh in on the situation. It is sad to witness the declining fan support at UTEP home games and not have a viable solution to the problem. The easy answer is to say that the teams need to win in order to get their attendance numbers up. Others have begged for a change of leadership to start over and bring some new ideas to try and solve the problem. The question university officials should be asking themselves is what if the Miners continue to under-perform? This is where UTEP and its marketing arm, IMG College need to get creative fast in order to solve this issue before attendance continues its free fall.
The football team has been to one bowl game in Sean Kugler's three seasons since returning to UTEP, and they will need to win their final four regular season games in order to have a chance to go bowling again. Even when the Miners won seven football games in 2014, they did not average more than 29,000 fans at the Sun Bowl for their six home games. UTEP went 5-1 at home that season, so how come the school and IMG College could not translate their success into more fans at the Sun Bowl?
The men's basketball team has not won a postseason game in the six seasons since Tim Floyd returned to UTEP as their head coach. Floyd has won more than 20 games in three of his six seasons with the Miners, but sadly that has not been enough to warrant an NCAA at-large bid in a conference that has only sent its tournament champ to the Big Dance. Judging from today's 80-73 win over Southeastern Oklahoma, the Miners will need some magic so the Don Haskins Center is not always filled with people disguised as empty seats.