How Will UTEP Basketball Crowds Look Over Next Five Home Games?
Fans were ready for the UTEP home opener last Saturday night. An announced crowd of 11,315 at the Don Haskins Center watched the Miners defeat the Aggies 67-64. The arena was probably closer to 10,000 fans than the recorded attendance, but the building was loud and energetic throughout the game. There was also a very healthy number of New Mexico State supporters who drove up from Las Cruces to watch the first installment of the I-10 rivalry.
Despite the near capacity crowd, UTEP begins a stretch of five home games against smaller programs over the next three weeks. They host Sul Ross State tonight, Alcorn State next Tuesday, Cal State Bakersfield next Wednesday, Texas A&M Corpus Christi next Friday, and Northern New Mexico College on Saturday, December 3rd. The A&M Corpus Christi matchup looks great on paper, since they are returning all of their starters from their NCAA Tournament team. Sandwiched in between are the Aggies Wednesday night, November 30th at the Pan Am Center.
Through a pair of games against 12th ranked Texas and NMSU, the Miners have shown that they are a hard-working team with strong defensive principals and enough depth to handle many opponents on their schedule as they prepare for conference play next month. How will that translate to home attendance at the Haskins Center?
The easy answer is that the majority of fans who watched UTEP's three-point win over the Aggies would want to come back and watch this team regardless of opponent. The Miners have a totally different look and feel to them this season, and their style emulates their head coach, Joe Golding. Nothing is ever easy when the topic relates to UTEP sports.
The core men's basketball fan base will be at the DHC tonight and also for every home game. As for the casual sports enthusiast and the UTEP student body, I would not hold my breath. Over the years, they have been slow to jump on the bandwagon and deservedly so. The Miners have not had a team in the NCAA Tournament since 2010 and many subsequent seasons have been filled with hope buy utter disappointment. The program will need more than a win over their I-10 rivals to get this city fired up about basketball season.
The UTEP athletic department created a $91.50 season ticket over the summer, with hopes of boosting attendance. According to a source, they sold 245 of those specially priced seats, which is about ten percent of their season ticket number. UTEP is still selling those $91.50 season tickets and they have roughly 100 of those left. They are expected to continue selling season tickets until the start of conference play. They also have 600 single game tickets priced at $9.15 for every contest on their schedule. If fans buy the season ticket or single game tickets in person at the Eisenberg Family Ticket Office in the Brumbelow Building, there are no taxes or extra fees added into that price point.
I think that between five and seven thousand fans will in the Don to see Coach Golding's team play their next home games. If the team is impressive and does not play down to their lesser competition, then gradually more fans will start to come back. By the time conference play rolls around, the Miners could get their home court advantage back for the first time in many years.