I had some time this afternoon, so I went down to my mom's basement with a sleeve of Oreos and fired up the old Cray 2000 to generate a figure showing Georgetown's home attendance since moving to the Cap Center for the 1981-2 season. The team moved to the MCI Center (now Verizon) for the 1997-8 season.
I decided to take a look at home attendance rather than KenPom rating, NCAA tourney wins, etc. as a crude measure of the financial health of GU basketball. That is, I assume a correlation between fans in the seats and the overall well-being of the program. Feel free to disagree and stop reading.
All data is from the Hoya Basketball History project. A few notes about the data:
- Each season is reported as the average attendance for all home games (between 13-17 per year).
- I don't believe McDonough games have been removed from the average, which can have an impact since McD only holds 3500 spectators as compared to 19-20,000 seats in the pro arenas. Georgetown has averaged slightly less than 1 game per year at McD since the 81-82 season. They played 5 games at McD twice (81-82 and 99-00) and 3 games at McD in 01-02. Feel free to correct the data on your own time.
- I can't speak to the accuracy of the attendance figures (season tickets + game day), the data archive or my transcription skills. In other words, expect some errors.
Here is a chart of average attendance over the past 36 seasons.
I've color-coded the data by head-coach, with the shared season of John Thompson Jr (JT Jr) and Craig Esherick (Esh) left as white.
A few notes:
- During the last 18+ seasons under John Thompson Jr., home attendance ran hot and cold. Some seasons drew more than 12,000 fans, but some years the team failed to bring in more than 9000 on average. In fact, the worst average home attendance for a complete season under JT Jr was 1983-84, the championship season. I think this should be a reminder that those salad days for Georgetown weren't necessarily the best attended.
- The worst season overall was Craig Esherick's first, and the next worst was his last. His teams never averaged 9000 fans in 5+ seasons. Yes, things really were bad during his time at the helm - the Hoyas averaged 8400 per game over his final five years.
- When John Thompson III arrived, attendance jumped about 2000 per game for the first two seasons, and jumped again over the next fours seasons to levels as good as any that his father had. In fact, attendance over the first 8 years of JT3's reign was the best run Georgetown has ever known.
- The last four seasons have not been good.
- Quite a bit of the season-to-season variability can be explained by individual events.
To wit, here is the same chart, now with important attendance drivers called out:
While the general trend is that winning equals fans, there's a bit more going on.
Attendance is somewhat reactive, in that spikes or drops in attendance are, in part, the result of what happened the previous season. Also, big personalities (Ewing, Mourning, Mutombo, Iverson, JT3) help to bring in fans.
But the upset losses in the NCAA tournament had an outsized effect over time:
- The Davidson loss was effectively shrugged off by the fan base, and attendance rebounded in two years
- The Ohio loss caused a significant drop, to levels just slightly better than JT3 first two seasons
- The FGCU loss was fatal. Attendance dropped to near-Esherickian levels.
In fact, we can use the attendance data to describe the performance of the Hoyas under JT3 over the past 10 seasons. Hint: it's not pretty.
That is not a healthy trend.