If you attended a men’s basketball game this season at Value City Arena it probably felt as if it were more empty, and more quiet, than usual. The reason for this is, well, because it was.
Attendance at Ohio State’s men’s basketball home games this season was the lowest since 1998, averaging just 12,284 per game. It was the first time the average home attendance dipped below 13,000 since 1998 and it marked the third-straight year in which average home attendance declined for the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s average home attendance without its NIT games — the two games this year with the lowest attendance — was still just 12,899. That figure would still be the lowest since that 1998 season.
Ohio State endured an up-and-down campaign in 2015-16, finishing the year 21-14 overall and 11-7 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years under head coach Thad Matta as they worked through a season primarily playing with freshmen and sophomores.
Ohio State’s average home attendance figures over the last five seasons prior to this year:
- 2015: 14,648
- 2014: 16,474
- 2013: 16,524
- 2012: 16,522
- 2011: 15,120
All of those numbers had Ohio State ranked at least in the top-16 nationally. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Buckeyes were inside the top-10 nationally at eighth, ninth and eighth and were in the top-three in the Big Ten all three seasons.
Official attendance records for all schools this season have not yet been compiled by the NCAA, but Ohio State’s average attendance of 12,284 in 2015-16 would have ranked 29th nationally last season.
The reason for the rather large decrease in attendance this season seems obvious. The Buckeyes, simply, weren’t as good as they have been in previous years under Matta. This wasn’t expected, of course, as this season had long planned to be about building toward the future, but fans sometimes have a tendency to be quite impatient. Couple that with the fact many believe this is the third-straight season where Ohio State is trending in the wrong direction and you get an attendance dip like this.
In a recent interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith echoed that sentiment: The best way for the university to get its attendance figures back to previous marks, the basketball program needs to win games.
“Everybody is trying to analyze it. The bottom line is we need to win. That’s it,” Smith told the Dispatch. “We want to have more than 95 percent [attendance] rate. We want to average north of 16,000 fans per game. That’s realistic for us. We want to have ‘X’ number of games that we sell out. We’re not going to sell out every game with 19,000 seats.”
Smith’s right, and Ohio State has been at or around the 16,000-mark on numerous occasions since Matta arrived back prior to the 2004-05 season. But this past year, as Matta endured the most losses he has ever had in a season, the average attendance somewhat plummeted to under 13,000. Only three times — in home games against Iowa, Maryland and Michigan — did Ohio State's attendance reach at least 15,000 fans.
With almost every player expected to return — freshman big man Daniel Giddens is expected to transfer and sophomore center Trevor Thompson recently announced his intentions to enter the NBA Draft but won’t hire an agent, so he’ll likely return, as well — the team will almost assuredly be better.
The only question that remains: Will the attendance be better, too?