ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With one month left of the 2013-14 men’s basketball season, one thing is clear: Lobo fans didn’t jump ship when old what’s his name left last March.
In fact, home attendance for University of New Mexico men’s basketball games is better in the first season under new head coach Craig Neal than it was under any of the previous six seasons under Steve Alford, who along with Neal oversaw the program’s steady climb back from relative attendance mediocrity.
Through 11 home games this season, UNM is averaging 15,145 per home game. That’s higher than the 15,022 average that last season’s 29-win, nationally ranked Lobos had through their 16-game home schedule.
“Lobo fans are passionate and support our team home and away,” UNM athletic director Paul Krebs told the Journal. “Attendance has been fantastic. Roughly 98-99 percent occupancy. Hard to do better.”
While not saying specifically what the projected revenue from Lobo men’s basketball tickets was coming into this season, Krebs confirmed Saturday that the university “will exceed our revenue projections” for the season.
The university announced in July a $1 increase in price per seat for season-ticket holders this season and an additional $2 for single-game tickets.
The Lobos also saw their TV revenue increase this season when the Mountain West expanded broadcast rights for men’s basketball games with the ESPN family of networks, CBS Sports Network and ROOT Sports.
While last season’s Lobos sold 97.5 percent of all available tickets for men’s basketball games, this season’s Lobos are at 98.3 percent occupancy and appear headed for an even better mark with four home games remaining.
For the final four home games, a total of 853 tickets were still available at the end of the Lobos’ Wednesday night overtime win over Wyoming. The Feb. 22 game against No. 5 San Diego State has already sold out, while the other three home games – Feb. 15 vs. Nevada (127 tickets remain), Feb. 25 vs. Utah State (303) and March 5 vs. Air Force (423) – have only a small number of tickets remaining in the 15,411-seat Pit.
Based on those numbers, even if UNM doesn’t sell another ticket from Wednesday’s win over Wyoming to the end of the season, the Pit’s average home attendance will be 15,159. Should the final four games each sell out, the average home attendance for the season would be 15,216. That would be UNM’s highest since Fran Fraschilla’s last season coaching in Albuquerque (2001-02), when the Lobos averaged 16,426 per home game in a pre-renovation arena that had a capacity of more than 18,000.
UNM had nine seasons of sub-15,000 average home attendance until last season.
Attendance dipped to 12,853 per home game in the 2006-07 season, the season before Alford was hired. In the past six seasons, the Pit has undergone a massive renovation and a change in perception by the fans.
“We’ve built a program with high expectations,” Neal told the Journal recently. “Like I’ve told the guys, you don’t want to be at a place where it really doesn’t matter. At our place, it matters. We’ve got the best fans, like I’ve always said.”
UNM’s current average home attendance of 15,145 is tops in the Mountain West, better than UNLV’s 12,874 and San Diego State’s 12,414, although Viejas Arena in San Diego holds only 12,414 and has been sold out in each of the Aztecs’ 12 games this season.