Fans check in as Hoiberg Huskers continue to wade


Fans watch Northwestern play against Nebraska during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday Feb. 5, 2022 in Lincoln, Neb. Northwestern defeated Nebraska 87-63. As Nebraska endures one of the worst men’s basketball seasons in program history under third-year coach Fred Hoiberg, the empty seats at Pinnacle Bank Arena are piling up. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)


As Nebraska endures one of the worst men’s basketball seasons in program history under third-year coach Fred Hoiberg, there are more empty seats than filled ones at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The average number of tickets scanned at the door for regular-season home games across 16 home dates was 7,160, less than half of the 15,000-seat capacity, according to figures provided to The Associated Press. . Three consecutive games in January drew fewer than 5,800 fans.

Athletic director Trev Alberts acknowledged that some were staying away due to fears of COVID-19 or frustration with mask mandates and that some of the whistleblower times weren’t conducive to large crowds.

“But it’s definitely the play on the pitch that is the overriding factor in terms of fan interest and attendance,” Alberts said in an interview. “It’s pretty obvious, I think.”

While a steep drop in attendance is a bad sign for any team, it’s especially worrisome for a school like Nebraska. The school has an unusual number of fans for most sports despite being in a sparsely populated state – “that sets us apart from our peers,” Alberts said – and the fortunes of the sports program have a significant impact on the local economy.

Sharp declines in attendance preceded the layoffs of four of the last five basketball coaches. The 22% drop in ticket usage this year compared to 2019-20 indicates fans are checking it out. There were no fans allowed in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.

The Huskers (6-17) are 0-12 in the conference for the first time and four of their five losses by at least 24 points have come against Big Ten opponents. Their most lopsided, 102-67 against unranked Michigan, came Dec. 7 at home.

On Saturday, they trailed 11th-place Northwestern by 35 points with five minutes remaining before losing 87-63. Fans left in droves at halftime, as the Huskers were down 22 points.

“You don’t have to win every game. You really don’t,” Alberts said. “But you better have a team that competes every night, you better have a team that is fundamentally strong, you have to have a team that plays together, never gives up, does things the right way. manner and represents the values ​​and ideals of Nebraska and our graduates.

“There have been times this season where our game has not necessarily reflected those very important cultural ideals that Nebraskanians are near and dear to. You can see the reaction from our fanbase to our programs that exemplify those things and those that don’t, and there’s a pretty stark contrast in terms of fan and donor interest,” he said.

Hoiberg was one of the splash recruits of the 2019 cycle. He was so popular as a player and coach at Iowa State that he is still known as “The Mayor” in Ames, Iowa. His poor run as Chicago Bulls coach didn’t take the excitement away from his hiring in Nebraska.

The program, however, is now mired in its worst three-year run. Hoiberg is 5-46 in Big Ten games, 20-62 overall and has lost 19 straight against Power 5 and Big East Conference opponents.

Hoiberg was hired by former athletic director Bill Moos and is paid $3.5 million this year. He would be owed $18.5 million if fired.

Other Big Ten schools have also reported a decrease in ticket usage compared to pre-pandemic seasons. Several schools require proof of vaccination to enter arenas and almost all require face masks.

According to the NCAA’s attendance ratio policy, the Huskers rank 11th in the nation with an average of 15,229 per game. This figure is calculated from tickets sold, the visiting team allocation and an additional 300 for media and arena staff. Many schools’ public attendance reports show a significant discrepancy between tickets sold and tickets used.

Nebraska sold out of season tickets in 2018-19, former coach Tim Miles’ final season, and the average ticket scanned was 9,974. Season tickets sold out again in 2019-20, the Hoiberg’s first, but the average of tickets scanned slipped to 9,156 as his first team won just seven games.


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James C. Tibbs