The Lobo men’s basketball team should be back in the Mountain West title hunt for the first time in three seasons, returning four starters and two first-team all-league players.
On the other side of the Rudy Davalos practice facility sits a new coaching staff for the UNM women’s basketball team — a change that often brings a boost of excitement in the fan base.
And the university heads into a celebratory 50th anniversary season for the Pit with two hoops programs firmly planted among the nation’s best in average home attendance. The men finished 23rd in the nation last season, a 50th-consecutive Top 25 finish, while the women checked in at No. 11.
Nevertheless, as Lobo basketball season ticket sales opened to new customers on Monday, the new-sales push starts in a hole as renewal numbers once again dipped for both programs. That continues a downward trend and serves as an ominous reminder that success at the turnstile in these parts is relative.
At UNM, after decades of investing in the two programs and building a foundation based on fan loyalty, profit and financial sustainability is expected, not just hoped for.
The UNM’s men’s team has not played in a postseason tournament in either of the past two seasons.
“Yes, there is always a concern when you see a drop in season tickets and it is not unexpected to have some attrition given the past two years,” said deputy athletic director Brad Hutchins. “But credit to our fans in that we still finished in the top 25 nationally in attendance. Suites are doing okay right now, still have some work to do in both U.S. Bank suites and club seat areas.”
The men’s team sold 10,029 season tickets for the 2015-16 season, which was the lowest mark since Ritchie McKay’s final season (9,348 in 2016-07). That final number was started by having 8,947 season ticket renewals.
When renewals closed last month, the number of returning season ticket holders was down to 8,543 (almost a 5 percent drop).
UNM reported last year’s men’s basketball season ticket sales missed budgeted revenue projections by $300,000 and this summer reported a $1.5 million deficit in athletics.
UNM said it sold 80 men’s and 12 women’s season tickets on Monday.
As for suite sales, something included in the 2009 renovation to help boost revenues, the Pit has 40 for sale. Last year they sold 28 for the season and others were sold on a game-by-game basis. Hutchins said “our Lobo Club is in the process of renewing those contracts” for the coming season and suite sale updates could be available at the end of October.
On the women’s side, where first-year head coach Mike Bradbury takes over for Yvonne Sanchez, there were 3,363 season ticket renewals this year, down from 3,614 renewals last season.
Still, Hutchins and the Lobo Club, which requires a donation for most of the men’s season ticket purchases, say they are as optimistic as ever about the sales picking up in the coming months.
“This year there is more excitement around the program, with two returning 1st team all-conference players, and a strong nucleus of new and returning players,” Hutchins said in an email. “We are also excited about our new concessionaire, Levy Restaurants, being in WisePies Arena and we will be introducing beer and wine sales in the general seating areas. This year we are also celebrating the 50th Anniversary of The Pit. Lastly, we believe that the addition of WiFi will be well received by our fans and improve the experience.”
Season tickets for the men’s team start at $306 for 17 home games (15 regular season, two exhibitions) and women’s team season tickets start at $114 for 19 home games (17 regular season, two exhibitions). Most tickets for men’s game above the $306 price point also require a Lobo Club donation which ranges from $100-$1,250 per seat.
Season tickets for both teams can be purchased online at unmtickets.com, by calling 505-925-LOBO or at the UNM Ticket Office at the Pit.