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Lobo hoops attendance doesn’t suffer much despite struggles

The wins didn’t come as often they used to, but the fans did.

Despite the UNM Lobos struggling through a sub-.500 men’s basketball season (the team finished 15-16 overall), the program’s average home attendance in the Pit once again ranked among the best in the nation for the 2014-15 season.

According to NCAA statistics, UNM’s average home attendance of 14,571 fans per game was good for 18th best in the nation among the country’s 351 Division I teams. That marks the 49th consecutive time since the Pit opened its doors in 1966 that the arena has ranked in the top 25 in average home attendance.

It was also the best home attendance, once again, among the 11 basketball playing members of the Mountain West Conference.

“Not surprised at all,” UNM Athletics Director Paul Krebs said when asked if the attendance figures came as a surprise at all because of the struggles on the court, which included an eight-game losing streak in February.

“We have the best college basketball fans in the country. Passionate, knowledgeable, and they love the Lobos. Testament to our fans that we continue to draw so well even in a down year.”

UNM’s average was more than 2,000 fans per home game better than any other team in the Mountain West, though San Diego State’s 12,414 average reflects another complete season of sold-out games at Viejas Arena. Eight of the MWC’s 11 teams ranked in the top 100 in average home attendance, with a ninth (Colorado State) just missing that distinction at 107.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico State averaged 6,150 fans per home game in the Pan American Center, which ranked 88th nationally.

It’s not all good news for UNM, though. While still impressive relative to the region, league and rest of the country, the Pit’s average home attendance of 14,571 (94.55 percent of the Pit’s seating capacity of 15,411) was 641 fewer tickets sold per game than the previous season, Craig Neal’s first as head coach.

The 2013-14 season, when UNM won 27 games, saw a Pit-record 98.71 percent of available tickets sold.

For a department so reliant on basketball revenue due to the financial struggles of its football program, any decline in attendance figures could be cause for concern.

But Krebs is confident, or at the very least hopeful, Lobo fans viewed the past season’s results on the court as an aberration and the decline wasn’t the start of a trend.

“We have high expectations for the program, and expect our team to compete for conference championships,” Krebs said. “Excited about next year’s team with a number of players returning, the transfers eligible, and our outstanding recruiting class coming in. I believe our fans recognize last year was a rebuilding year.”

UNM expects more than 15 home games for the coming season, as it has had for the past two seasons but hadn’t had that few before that since the 1974-75 season.

That means that while the total price of season tickets may go up next season, Krebs said it is “unlikely” there will be a per-ticket increase in tickets this coming season.

A final decision on men’s basketball season-ticket prices is expected in the next two weeks, he added.