UMass men’s basketball attendance is on the rise

The Mullins Center brings in 5,013 fans Saturday afternoon

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Dylan Nguyễn/Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Managing Editor

For the second time in his life, University of Massachusetts student Fawzi El-Kattan attended a UMass men’s basketball game. The sophomore managerial economics major keeps himself busy on campus. On top of running the Sales club, he participates in the multiple cultural groups on campus.

Other than college wrestling, El-Kattan doesn’t follow many sports as intently as his peers do. His friends convinced him to go to basketball this year after not attending a single game as a freshman.

“I’m not a huge basketball guy, but honestly at the end of the day people love a winner,” El-Kattan said. “That’s why I like the hockey games. It has so many people coming … You can’t expect students to come to a losing team.”

In UMass coach Frank Martin’s first season, he’s guided his team to a 11-6 record so far. Their 9-3 non-conference record being the Minutemen’s best performance in non-conference play since the 2013-14 season, when they made the NCAA tournament.

As El-Kattan explained it, winning draws fans. While it’s nothing groundbreaking to this point, Martin’s impact is already seen on the court and in the stands. That was especially the case Saturday afternoon, when UMass defeated Rhode Island 75-65 at the Mullins Center in front of 5,013 fans. That brings the Minutemen’s average home attendance this season to 3,730 out of 9,493 possible seats.

Martin mentioned after both the season opener and the Minutemen’s loss against UMass Lowell in December how he felt the crowd, doing so again after Saturday’s win.

“When I walked out for the game I was like ‘Okay, this is better’,” Martin said. “Getting 5,000 in there, that was awesome. I’m so thankful. I’m not being greedy, but on the contrary I’m telling you we’re going to ask people for their time, their money and their energy, and we better play the way we played today. When we connect all those and we keep putting more and more people [in the stands], it’s going to be a whole lot of fun like it used to be around here.”

It’s the first time UMass had 5,000 fans since February 2020, when the Mullins Center held 5,030 against Dayton. The Flyers are also the most recent big name team that played in the Mullins Center. Dayton was the No. 6 team in the country at that time, led by Obi Toppin. The postseason was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, but Toppin still won the Wooden Award, given to the most outstanding player in college basketball.

Here’s a look at UMass’ average attendance over the past 10 seasons:

After the 2014 NCAA Tournament berth, fans attendance steadily declined until this season. Marketing ploys directed towards students over recent years helped, but never moved the needle. It’s been several years since the student section located at the baseline under the Mullins Center logo was filled up.

During the peak of UMass men’s basketball’s powers in the late ’90s, attendance was sky high. The 1993-94 season was the first time the Minutemen had the Mullins Center for the entire year. From then through the 1996-97 season, UMass average attendance capacity didn’t dip below 99 percent.

Since those days, there isn’t a single season where the average men’s basketball capacity in the Mullins Center was above 90 percent.

When Martin coached against the Minutemen in 2019, he led South Carolina to an 84-80 victory in front of 3,043 in attendance. That was UMass’ fifth home game of the 2019 season, and the first that over 3,000 fans showed up to.

“There was no noise, no presence.” Martin recalled of the 2019 game.

For reference, in the eight home games the Minutemen had this season, two were under 3,000 fans. Those were UMass’ most recent game against La Salle and their final non-conference matchup against Dartmouth. The La Salle game was on a Wednesday, while the Dartmouth game took place on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. A time when many students were either home or finishing up their semester and local fans likely prepping for the holidays.

To this day, three games in the past six years topped 5,000 fans. That’s 3-of-93 games — or 3.23 percent — where the Mullins Center hosted over 53 percent of its maximum capacity.

Fans such as El-Kattan come to home games more often this season. The eight-game sample size is small, but in that time the numbers reveal what’s to come once students return for the spring semester in the first week of February.

If the Dartmouth game isn’t included, the Minutemen’s average attendance this year is 3,944, or 41.5 percent of Mullins’ capacity. Over the prior three seasons that allowed fan attendance, the average capacity percentage for a UMass home game was 27 percent.

Martin’s goal of a sold-out crowd is something that hasn’t happened since March 9, 2014, when Minutemen lost a 64-62 nail-biter to No. 17 Saint Louis. The upward tick in attendance during Martin’s short tenure slowly gives that goal more life with each game Martin’s team wins.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.