Entering the home stretch of the regular season, the Oregon Ducks are in line for a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament. They've won four of their last five games and have shown recently they know how to grind out wins in tough games. As a matter of fact, through ten conference games, the Ducks have a better record (6-4) than they did last year (3-7), despite being picked to finish eighth in the conference. But where are all of the fans?
If you were to attend a Ducks basketball game these days, you wouldn't know that this is a program that has gone to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2013. On Wednesday night, the Ducks faced the Washington Huskies. The game was nationally televised on ESPN2 and featured a rivalry matchup some fans consider bigger than the Civil War. But, just ten minutes before tip-off, this was the scene at Matthew Knight Arena.
10 minutes before tipoff of Oregon vs. UW. Bueller? pic.twitter.com/Q3rb78Xza0— Josh Schlichter (@joshschlichter) February 5, 2015
Sure, you could blame it on another awful start time for TV purposes. I mean, who has time to get to the arena at 6 pm on a Wednesday night? Some students are still in class, others are just leaving the office at that time. But no matter what time tip-off is at Matthew Knight Arena, this is a common sight.
@seanlarsonATQ too much of the alumni base lives outside Eugene (myself included) & can't make games regularly like we can for football.— Justin Gast (@cubbyduck76) February 7, 2015
That's a very valid point, but Eugene is still a large town and filled with plenty of Ducks fans last time I checked.
Wednesday night's matchup against Washington drew less than 6,000 people to an arena with a capacity of 12,364. 85 games have been played at Matthew Knight with just six of those games drawing a capacity crowd.
Hey, I've got an idea. We couldn't sell out Mac Court during its final years, so let's add 3,000 more seats to the new arena! You see, Matthew Knight Arena wasn't just built for the Ducks, but for a number of musical acts guaranteed to fill the building to capacity. Maybe Oregon basketball can't draw a crowd, but Macklemore and Florida Georgia Line sure can.
From a standpoint of getting fans into the seats, things have gone from bad to worse for the Ducks. This Sunday, Oregon will face Ernie Kent and the Washington State Cougars. It'll be the first time Kent has returned to Eugene as an opposing coach since his departure after the 2009-10 season. That won't mean much to the students however, as no current students were enrolled at Oregon during Kent's tenure with the Ducks. As a result, the team has been forced to bribe the students with free food if they show up.
Students where are you?? Just heard that there are a lot of tickets left for Sunday. We will buy pizza for you at half. Just come on out!— Oregon Basketball (@OregonMBB) February 6, 2015
This is just plain embarrassing for the team and the school. Usually, students are the only ones that schools can count on to show up in masses. After all, the cost of their tickets are already included in tuition, so by not going to games, students are literally wasting money. Technically, the tickets aren't free, but during my time as a student, it always felt that way, and the only times I would ever miss a game were if I happened to be out of town that weekend. Oregon students used to literally have to camp out to attain basketball tickets. So why can't they get any students to show up?
From my recent experiences as a student who was a devoted member of the Pit Crew, Sunday afternoon games were always the hardest to get to. This was either because some of us had partied a little too hard at Taylor's the night before or as any college student will tell you, Sunday is a day for doing all the homework that got put off during the week.
The Ducks are even willing to slash prices dramatically for one of the biggest home games of the year. When the Ducks face Utah on Feb. 22, you can go see the game for just $15. Any section, any seat. Think about that for a minute. Oregon can't even get fans to come see their team play Utah, currently ranked No. 13 in the AP Top 25. Depending on how things shake up, this could be a game with major implications when it comes to seeding for the Pac-12 tournament.
@seanlarsonATQ Not gonna lie, it got me to buy tickets for me and my kids (their first bball game) and to drive down from Salem for Utah.— Ben McDonald (@TheDuckZer) February 7, 2015
Hey look! It's working! I mean heck, I'd do it too if I could get seats that normally cost over $50 for just $15.
Oregon's issues with drawing a crowd isn't because the Ducks don't win at home. Since moving to Matthew Knight Arena in 2011, the Ducks have posted a home record of 72-13, making it one of the toughest places to win in the country.
For starters, the cost of attending a game is absolutely insane. Let's break down the cost of a game at Matthew Knight Arena for, let's say, a family of four.
Tickets: $38 each = $152 (average cost of a ticket to a Ducks basketball game, with prices ranging between $16 to $53)
Parking: $10, and that might be lowballing it. I used to live next to the arena and there was a lot just behind Franklin Blvd. a couple blocks away for $10, so let's say that's where you park. Parking is one of the main reasons fans don't come to games. When Matthew Knight Arena was built, there was no additional parking added. Good luck trying to find parking in Eugene on a night when there isn't a game. Now add 8,000 people, many who drive to games, and you can see what a headache that creates.
Concessions: $10 per person = $40. Let's just assume everyone gets one of those awful hot dogs and an overpriced Pepsi to wash it down.
Average cost of an Oregon basketball game for a family of four: $202
I think that's the basics, of course you could spend more or less, but this is about the most middle ground as you could go for an Oregon basketball experience. This is, of course, assuming you live in Eugene and don't have to drive far to get to the game. Otherwise, let's tack on another 20 bucks for gas, at least.
The cost is one major problem of basketball games these days. Another is the atmosphere. When the Ducks moved from dear old Mac Court to their shiny new digs, suddenly the traditional college basketball experience went away with it. You know what's great about college football games at Autzen Stadium? It doesn't feel like an NFL game. The band plays continuously throughout the game and the traditions have remained the same throughout the years. Now, at Ducks basketball games, the band's playing time has been cut significantly in place of an actual DJ that plays remixes of your favorite club hits.
Did you hear that? It's "Single Ladies" with a sweet transition to "Yeah." Who needs a band when you have those kind of sick beats?
Now, I haven't been to an NBA game in a few years, but it feels like the Ducks are trying to make going to a Ducks game at Matthew Knight Arena the same as going to a Blazers game in Portland.
I was fortunate enough to be a freshman at the University of Oregon during the final season at Mac Court. There was no video board, no kiss cam, no bongo cam, no club songs. It was a true college basketball environment. We were so close to the court that we stood on the gym floor literally just a couple arm lengths away from the players. When we got the Pit rocking, if you weren't jumping up and down with everyone, you'd get thrown up into the air as the bleachers basically turned into a giant trampoline. And it was so damn hot in that building that we wore shorts to games, even if it meant we stood outside for over an hour waiting to get in, wearing shorts while it was 40 degrees and raining outside. That was a special place. Don't get me wrong, I love Matthew Knight Arena. I easily spent more time in that venue than any other athletic stadium on campus during my time there. But it'll always try to be something it's not, and that is an NBA venue.
Kudos to the team for making a visible effort to market the team, though. They see a problem, and they're doing everything they can to fix it. Here's to hoping the Ducks can draw a decent crowd for at least the Utah game.