Compared with their peers, New Mexicans seem to love their college sports.
OK, maybe not so much with football at the moment. But everywhere else, average home attendance numbers compiled by the Journal suggest that both of the state’s Division I universities are doing well in terms of getting fans in the stands.
Both the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University rank at or near the top of their respective conferences in terms of average home attendance for six of the seven team sports the NCAA requires regular reporting of home attendance figures and in the top third nationally for most of those sports.
NOTE: See sport-by-sport attendance and conference/national rankings at bottom.
“We are fortunate that Lobo fans come out to support many of our programs,” said Brad Hutchins, UNM deputy athletics director. “Looking at (the Journal ‘s attendance) document, we not only do well in the conference, but we do well nationally, and that is a credit to Lobo fans.”
Still, the relatively solid attendance figures – most notable UNM men’s basketball’s 50-season streak of ranking in the top 50 nationally and women’s basketball ranking 11th in the country – haven’t allowed either athletic department to avoid the harsh financial realities of modern college athletics.
UNM athletics is expected to miss making budget for the seventh time in the past nine years when numbers for the 2015-16 fiscal year that just ended are reported. NMSU recently announced university-wide budget cuts with the possibility of more to come soon.
“We are very appreciative of the people who spend their hard-earned money to watch us,” said NMSU AD Mario Moccia. “Our community is not as affluent as some, so it means a lot when people will spend their money watching one of our athletics events.”
UNM led the Mountain West Conference in average home attendance for three sports during 2015-16: men’s basketball (23rd nationally), women’s basketball (11th nationally) and women’s soccer (21st nationally). The Lobos also ranked in the top three in conference attendance in baseball, volleyball and men’s soccer, which competes in Conference USA.
Lobo football’s announced average home attendance of 23,528 per game last fall ranked sixth in the MWC and 84th (of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision schools) in the nation.
For the Aggies, fans led the WAC in women’s basketball and volleyball, were second in men’s basketball and women’s soccer and fourth in baseball.
NMSU football, which competes in the Sun Belt, had an average home attendance of 17,486, ranking seventh of 11 league teams and 112th (of 128) in the nation.
“It’s one of those things where you’re rarely happy with attendance, because you look and if there’s still seats there to sell … well, our goal is to maximize the sale,” Moccia said.
“… There was a big uptick (in the past season) in soccer, volleyball, women’s basketball, baseball. That’s all great, but from a revenue standpoint it doesn’t move the needle a lot. It’s great for the student-athlete experience, and nobody is ever going to turn away a dollar, so every little bit helps. But certainly when you’re talking attendance, you’re really focused on men’s and women’s basketball and football, because that’s where the revenue is.”
Both schools say they’re stepping up marketing and other efforts to increase ticket sales, and are both optimistic about what they hope will be improved football attendance this fall.
But they also realize there are limits to how much increased attendance alone can do in terms of keeping up with the top programs in the nation.
“Yes, we are all facing challenges with the budget,” Hutchins said. “We may not have what Power 5 schools have with respect to television money, but it is important to note – that overall as an athletics program – we have been achieving a high level of success with our resources to date, both on the field of play and in the classroom.”
2015-16 NCAA average home attendance rankings by sport (UNM in Mountain West, NMSU in WAC unless noted)
2015-16 avg. home attendance by team sport
|Sport||School||Avg. home attendance||National rank / # of teams||Conference rank / # of teams|
|BASEBALL||UNM||851||78th / 300||3rd / 7|
|NMSU||600||107th / 300||4th / 10|
|MEN’S BASKETBALL||UNM||13,030||23rd / 351||1st / 11|
|NMSU||4,768||106th / 351||2nd / 8|
|WOMEN’S BASKETBALL||UNM||5,511||11th / 349||1st / 11|
|NMSU||1,268||118th / 349||1st / 8|
|FOOTBALL||UNM||23,528||84th / 128||6th / 12|
|NMSU*||17,486||112th / 128||7th / 11|
|MEN’S SOCCER||UNM*||1,692||15th / 206||2nd / 9|
|WOMEN’S SOCCER||UNM||1,143||21st / 333||1st / 12|
|NMSU||716||52nd / 333||2nd / 8|
|VOLLEYBALL||UNM||1,100||41st / 334||2nd / 11|
|NMSU||1,093||42nd / 334||1st / 8|