Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
After a year away from the Pit, fans are back.
The University of New Mexico Lobos men’s and women’s basketball teams tip off their seasons this week with fans again welcome – with masks, of course – in the iconic 55-year-old arena to watch college basketball in a state that, even in lean seasons, boasts one of the best home court advantages and highest average home attendance figures in the country each year.
But a powerful state legislator in Santa Fe is not on board with how UNM Athletics, a department under financial scrutiny for much of the past decade, is advertising to get fans back in the Pit.
In a recent social media post, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, bluntly questioned why the university would start season ticket prices for the men’s basketball team at $199 and at just $110 for the women’s team.
“Hey @UNM, @UNMLOBOS, and @EddieNunezAD, why are you charging *LESS* for season tickets for Women’s basketball than you charge for @UNMLoboMBB ?” Egolf asked in an Oct. 27 tweet. “Not a good look. #NMPOL @nmhighered.”
It triggered a flood of responses – many mentioning “supply and demand” or suggesting Egolf focus on more pressing priorities.
“Mr. Speaker: Perhaps there are other things you should be focused on, such as crime and poverty,” one reply said. “But I do take comfort in knowing you are an expert in pricing for sporting events.”
Another said: “Imagine that, Brian doesn’t know what a market is.”
UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez, who was specifically mentioned in Egolf’s tweet, said he is aware of what the speaker wrote, but didn’t want to comment. He did say he is open to talk with Egolf or any other state representative interested in UNM Athletics matters, including about ticket pricing.
UNM is not alone. Most, if not, all Division 1 schools charge a higher price for men’s basketball tickets – season tickets or single-game tickets – than for women’s basketball. It has been the norm for schools to charge more for those sports that see the greatest demand for tickets.
In an interview Tuesday, Egolf said he doesn’t plan to introduce legislation over the price difference. But he said the university, as a public agency, should consider more than just “dollars and cents” in its marketing to New Mexicans.
“As a father of two daughters,” Egolf told the Journal, “I just don’t like the message it communicates to girls in the state – that their efforts on the basketball court aren’t as appreciated or valued as the work of the men.”
UNM, he said, could consider equalizing the prices for men’s and women’s basketball or offering season-ticket packages that grant access to both teams’ games.
The university, Egolf added, could also seek financial help from the Legislature to address the issue.
“My point is, the advertising that the university does promoting basketball ticket sales is government speech,” said Egolf, who’s a lawyer. “This is not a private enterprise responding to issues of supply and demand, and setting prices based solely on market forces.”
A public university, he added, shouldn’t be “communicating that women’s basketball is of inherently less value than men’s basketball.”
The speaker said he follows Lobo sports, has attended men’s and women’s games, and watched on TV. He attended Georgetown University and the UNM School of Law.
Egolf is also sponsor of the state’s Fair Pay For Women Act, adopted in 2013 to prohibit wage discrimination based on gender.
The Lobo women’s team on Tuesday opened its season against Lamar in the Pit. The men’s team begins its season Wednesday night against Florida Atlantic. While prices might vary game to game or depending on various promotions the university might be running, single game ticket prices for the season openers ranged from $8 to $14 for the women’s game and $15 to $45 for the men’s game.
In the 2019-20 season – the last before pandemic-related state health restrictions forced the men’s and women’s teams to play out of state last season – each team enjoyed strong attendance.
The women’s basketball team led the Mountain West Conference and ranked 18th out of 351 Division I teams in the nation, with a reported average home attendance of 4,874. The team also brought in $391,648 in ticket revenue that season.
The UNM men’s basketball team in the 2019-20 season ranked second in the Mountain West and 33rd out of 354 Division I teams nationally, with a reported average home attendance of 10,992 per game. The team brought in $3.5 million in ticket revenue that season.
UNM Athletics in the 2020 fiscal year reported a total of $4.9 million in ticket revenue from all its sports – money that is not specifically set aside for any particular sport, though Lobo men’s basketball does follow the national norm of having far more money devoted to salaries on the men’s side than it does on the women’s side.
Due to Title IX, all universities, UNM included, are required to offer equal facilities, court time, travel budgets and amenities to like programs – in this case, the men’s and women’s basketball teams, which essentially have the same types of locker rooms and access to facilities in the Pit.
Title IX for NCAA Athletics does not cover ticket prices.
In its last full season in the Pit, men’s hoops ticket sales generated more revenue than ticket sales for all other Lobo sports, according to budget figures reported to the UNM Board of Regents. Football tickets came in second that year, at $963,904. Women’s basketball was third, and all the other sports, including those whose spring seasons were eliminated, brought in just $29,988.
Tweeting about Lobo Athletics isn’t the norm for Egolf. According to his Twitter account – @BrianEgolf – he has posted 2,507 tweets.
The only time the @UNMLobos account has ever been tagged in one of his posts was in the Oct. 27 tweet about the season ticket prices.
There was no mention of “Lobo” and just one containing the term “Lobos” that he posted March 17, 2012. That was the day the Lobo men’s basketball team lost a close NCAA tournament game to Louisville, 59-56, in Louisville.
He wrote: “Even though no one needed another reason to hate Louisville, now we have one. #lobos”
Among the responses to his more recent post were several from Egolf supporters and Lobo Athletics supporters alike questioning his intent or knowledge of the UNM Athletics decision-making, as well as numerous references to “supply and demand.”
“Come on, Brian!! This is trying to cause controversy where there isn’t,” wrote one person. Another used the hashtag #FakeOutrage.
Will Warren, one of the more vocal women’s basketball supporters each season, asked the speaker why he never commented on the women’s basketball team winning the Mountain West Championship last season, despite playing all but two games outside New Mexico. He also invited Egolf to a game.