Basketball: How big will Bulls' crowds be?
With USF's men's basketball team making a run at the NCAA Tournament and three of the last five games in the Sun Dome, just how big will the crowds be to see the Bulls in the next 16 days?
Perhaps angling for a rare Sun Dome sellout for the regular-season finale against Connecticut, USF announced a promotion Friday where fans who purchase tickets for the remaining games against St. John's and Providence will get a free ticket to the UConn game.
USF coach Stan Heath talked about the increased attendance and the desire for even more, like a potential sellout, as he met with the media Thursday.
"I think the more we win, the more we can draw people in, the more they enjoy the event," Heath said. "The more we can piggyback off what our football team has done, what the Bucs did years ago, what the Rays did a couple years ago. I think that's our city, love it, like it, that's the way it is. Winning is the common denominator, and I've said that since Day 1. We have to do our part, and we haven't totally done it, but we're moving in the right direction."
(UPDATE: Heath has this video on USF's official site, asking fans to show their support. Curious to hear "Dominique, Chris, Toarlyn and all the Bulls ...")
USF's biggest home crowd this season -- for Tuesday's win against Cincinnati -- was announced as 6,607, which still ranks as just the seventh-biggest Sun Dome turnout since the Bulls joined the Big East in 2005. The biggest Sun Dome crowd in the Big East era was the 9,636 that saw the Bulls play No. 2 Connecticut at the end of USF's first Big East season in 2006.
It wouldn't take much more than that for a sellout -- since USF added the "Courtside Cabana" on one end of the second level of seating, that took away about 700 seats, replacing them with about 200 people watching the game from the Cabana. USF had listed the Sun Dome's basketball capacity as 10,411, which puts the new capacity likely just under 10,000 -- I'd think the Bulls find a way to keep it over that figure.
Officially, USF's two biggest home crowds in the Big East era came at the St. Pete Times Forum -- 13,181 to see Wake Forest in Dec. 2006 and 12,056 to see the Bulls play West Virginia in January 2008. Here are the five largest Sun Dome crowds since 2005 -- where will the next three games rank among these?
1. 9,636 USF vs. Connecticut, March 1, 2006.
2. 8,350 USF vs. Syracuse, Jan. 2, 2009.
3. 7,875 USF vs. Notre Dame, March 8, 2008.
4. 7,705 USF vs. Notre Dame, Feb. 3, 2007.
5. 7,015 USF vs. Georgetown, Feb. 18, 2009.
USF's average home attendance entering the final three games is 4,620, the second-highest in five Big East seasons, behind Stan Heath's first season in 2007-08, which averaged 5,123. That's up about 10 percent from last year's average of 4,188 fans, and if the Bulls were to just draw the 6,607 from Tuesday in the remaining three games, the season average would finish up at 5,017.
USF's all-time best attendance came in 1991-92, when the Bulls reached the NCAA Tournament and totaled 100,576 fans for an average of 7,184 per game.