Last week, while I was vacationing in the (mostly) beautiful South Florida weather, the NCAA released their attendance figures for the 2015-16 men’s basketball season and all in all, it was a slightly improved season for the Northeast Conference.
The ten NEC schools increased their average home game attendance by 57 fans per game to 1,109 fans which is the first increase for the league in three seasons since the NEC reached their all-time high back in 2012-13 when they averaged 1,419 fans per game which was also the final season the NEC had twelve teams.
The biggest attendance winner was easily Mount St. Mary’s which averaged a league-high 2,207 fans per game last season, an increase of 971 fans from the previous season. The Mount were the only NEC team to top 2,000 fans per game last season and the only team to do it since LIU Brooklyn last did it with 2,237 fans per game back in 2013-14. A likely good reason for their increase was the optimism Mount fans had in their team going into the season as they were the NEC preseason favorites. Although the Mount finished a disappointing 14-19 last season, they did have an excellent 9-3 home record at Knott Arena.
The biggest drop off in attendance came at St. Francis Brooklyn although it is a bit misleading. Attendance for the Terriers fell off by 624 fans per game to 487 fans per game down from the 1,111 fans they averaged per game the season prior in which they were the preseason favorites to win it all. Their prior season numbers were heavily inflated by a 7,532 attendance for a home game at Madison Square Garden in which it was a doubleheader with St. John’s. In actuality, St. Francis Brooklyn averaged 709 fans per game at the Pope Center in 2014-15 which makes the drop off just 222 fans per game.
The real biggest drop off came at Bryant in which attendance fell off by 500 fans per game to 436 fans per game last season from 936 fans per game the year before. The 436 fans per game were not just an league-low but a NCAA Division I low as well. Bryant were picked to finish third in the NEC preseason coaches poll and ended up failing to qualify for the NEC tournament finishing in ninth place. Bryant ended up winning just four home games last season on their way to a disappointing 8-23 season.
Closer to home, LIU Brooklyn saw their average attendance dip for the second straight season. LIU finished fifth in the conference in average attendance with 1,163 fans going to either the Steinberg Wellness Center or the Barclays Center last season. For the first time last season, LIU didn’t draw at least 2,000 fans to at least one Barclays Center game which has helped drive their attendance numbers since they started playing games there back in 2012-13. The two Barclays Center games against North Carolina Central from the MEAC and Incarnate Word from the Southland Conference averaged just over 1,000 fans. LIU though did average 1,185 fans per game in their twelve home games at the Steinberg Wellness Center which played to nearly 70 percent of their 1,700 capacity for a team that play .500 ball on campus.
One fan base that needs to be commended are the CCSU fans. For a team that won just four games the entire season, CCSU average attendance actually went up last season to 1,274 fans per game, an increase of 115 fans per game. A lot of it was likely due to the talk all season long that it was going to be long-time head coach Howie Dickenman final season at the helm of the Blue Devils. Once CCSU rebuilds, they will once again be among the leaders in average attendance in the conference.
The seven NEC teams that saw increases last season were Mount St. Mary’s (+971), Robert Morris (+420), Sacred Heart (+132), CCSU (+115), Fairleigh Dickinson (+82), Saint Francis (+72), and Wagner (+7).
The three that saw decreases last season were St. Francis Brooklyn (-624), Bryant (-500) and LIU (-133).
Four teams averaged under 1,000 fans per game last season in Fairleigh Dickinson (769), Sacred Heart (621), Saint Francis Brooklyn (487), and Bryant (436).
There is a chance next season could see an even bigger jump in attendance numbers with some already announced juicy non-conference home games which include Monmouth at Wagner, Oakland at Robert Morris, St. John’s at LIU Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, and Iona at Fairleigh Dickinson with others likely soon to be announced.