If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the 630 days between the last Lobo men’s basketball game played in Albuquerque on Feb. 29, 2020, and the upcoming Nov. 10 season opener against Florida Atlantic should guarantee some full hearts in the Pit.
There is little question Lobo hoops has been missed after it and New Mexico State University were the only Division I men’s basketball programs forced to play their entire 2020-21 seasons outside their home state due to New Mexico’s COVID-19 health restrictions.
But predicting just how many fans will feel comfortable returning to the enclosed Pit for the coming season with ongoing COVID concerns and the program coming off a historically bad season (6-16 overall, 2-15 MWC) that led to a coaching change is more difficult task.
UNM opened new season-ticket sales this past weekend and with more than one month to go before the start of the season they appear to be at “about 81%” of what the pre-pandemic 2019-20 season ticket figure of 8,193 was, according to Dave Williams, the school’s Deputy Athletic Director for External Affairs,
“Looking at the list of people that have not renewed, I know that there are people on that list still that will renew,” Williams said. “And so projecting it out and projecting new sales, I’m comfortable with saying that we will be around the 2019-20 number before it’s all over.”
At 81%, that would be about 6,600 tickets sold so far, and that doesn’t included any student, single-game or corporate package sales. That 6,600 figure alone would have ranked 80th nationally among 354 Division I teams in 2019-20 (NMSU ranked 80th that season at 6,503) and sixth in the Mountain West. As it was, UNM’s 10,992 average home attendance in 2019-20, Paul Weir’s third as coach of the Lobos, ranked 33rd nationally and second behind San Diego State in the MWC.
And while there is cautious optimism about a good amount of fans flocking back to the Pit this season, even amid COVID concerns and following a bad 2020-21 season, the department did cut back on ticket sale projections by about 10% for men’s hoops — not an insignificant number at a school where there is still one clear cash cow at the gate.
In its last full season in the Pit, men’s hoops ticket sales brought in just north of $3.5 million of the $4.9 million in total sporting event ticket sales for Lobo sports, according to budget figures reported to the UNM Board of Regents.
Lobo football that fiscal year (the season of 2019) brought in second most at $963,904 with women’s basketball at $391,648 and all other sports, including those whose spring seasons were eliminated, brought in just $29,988.
So, getting basketball even back to where it was in 2019-20 is important to the department’s finances.
“It’s imperative that we continue to fight the good fight against COVID and do everything we can to from a financial standpoint for the athletic department to have a good basketball sales year,” Williams said.
PRICE POINT: No season-ticket prices went up from the 2019-20 season and packages start at $199 per seat for the season, UNM says, without a donation requirement to the Lobo Club. Most season tickets do require a donation, the largest revenue source for the Lobo Club.
Women’s basketball tickets start at $115.
Information can be found online at GoLobos.com/Tickets
LOOKING ELSEWHERE: While every sport seems happy games are back in New Mexico, the return hasn’t yet meant all the fans have felt comfortable coming back regularly to large gatherings.
New Mexico United and the Albuquerque Isotopes, like their peers nationwide, have lower than normal average home attendance figures. And Lobo football is averaging 19,179 fans per home game, but is coming off a conference-opening loss where just 13,158 showed up.
On the other hand, the Isotopes welcomed the largest single-game attendance (13,035) in the country for a Minor League Baseball game for their July 4 game, one night after a strong 10,482 came out for a Mariachis Night promotion. And the UNM/NMSU football game on Sept. 11 had an announced crowd of 28,470.
CALL THEM: Williams noted all customers who paid a deposit or are waiting to be contacted about renewals should have been contacted by now as UNM sent out at least two mailers and multiple emails.
“If they haven’t heard from us by now, we must not have the right address so they should give us a call,” Williams said.