Sunday, December 23, 2001

DAUGHERTY: UC basketball

School puts squeeze on loyal fans

By Paul Daugherty
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Remember when the noise inside the Shoemaker Center curled the walls? Bob Huggins removed his sportcoat and the gym sounded like Turn 2 at Daytona. It was a few years ago.

        Now, crowds are down. The standard thirteen-one-seventy-six hasn't been to a UC basketball game yet. Those who come leave their lungs at home. “What was once a tough place to play has become a cocktail party for the rich and famous,” a fan told me this week.

        We'll call the fan Bob, because that is, in fact, his name. He wanted to leave the rest out, because he has good friends who are well-heeled members of UCATS, the fund-raising arm of UC's athletic department.

        Bob laments the gentrification of the crowds at UC basketball games. He blames it on rising ticket costs; specifically, the money UCATS wants just for the right to buy season tickets.

        Bob is not alone. In the past few years, several UC season-ticket holders have expressed to me the same concern. Huggins has wondered publicly about the attendance dip. Consistent excellence deserves consistent support, he said. So where are the fans?

        At the local BW-3's, drinking beer and watching the big screen.

        Loyalty ransomed

        Bob has had season tickets to UC basketball games since 1984. This year, he had to donate another $750 to UCATS, on top of the $750 he paid last year, to avoid being banished to the bleachers. “To keep the backs on my seats,” he said. He wasn't happy about it.

        “I don't have a problem with them trying to raise money,” Bob said. “But loyalty should have some value. When you tell the UCATS people that, their response is always, "If you don't like the direction we're heading, there are dozens of people behind you who will take your tickets.' ”

        What is happening at UC isn't unique. The cost of running college programs and paying pro salaries has pushed the average fan away from the arena and into the sports bar. Wait until Great American Ball Park opens. Your wallet will be in full cardiac arrest. If anything, UC is late arriving at the trend.

        Basketball means bucks

        The Bearcats make basketball season-ticketholders buy football season tickets. They have tied basketball tickets to UCATS membership. Shoemaker Center has two levels. No one who contributes less than $1,800 a year sits in the lower level. No one giving less than $3,000 sits in the middle sections of the lower level.

        If you don't pay up, you are moved up, or out. Unlike the Bengals' personal seat licenses, UCATS membership requires an annual payment, and you do not own the rights to your seat. UC does this “to provide the kinds of programs we all want to watch,” said Bill Mulvihill, a senior associate athletic director. The money has to come from somewhere. Basketball floats the athletic boat in Clifton.

        The result is diehard UC fans have left the building, replaced by wealthier, less vocal patrons. It's no longer a guys' night out, not when the guys have to fork over $3,000 for the right to buy good seats.

        In 1963, when the Beatles played a concert for the queen of England, John Lennon asked for audience participation. “The people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands,” Lennon said. “The rest of you, just rattle your jewelry.” They're rattling jewelry now at the Shoe.

        Contact Paul Daugherty at 768-8454; fax: 768-8550; e-mail: Cincinnati.Com keyword: Daugherty.


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