North Texas Daily

Attendance on the decline in major sports at North Texas

Attendance on the decline in major sports at North Texas

October 29
01:34 2015

Scott Sidway | Sports Editor


Fewer people are attending games for the three major sports at North Texas, with attendance in football, men’s and women’s basketball all showing declines in recent years.

Through three football games in 2015, Apogee Stadium has fielded crowds of 19,602, 19,801 and 10,155, averaging 16,519 officially per game. That is a 30 percent drop from when the team won the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2013, which was the highest total since Apogee Stadium opened in 2011 at 23,509.

North Texas also ranks 12th out of 14 teams in Conference USA in football attendance, ahead of only Florida International University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. But Charlotte averages nearly a sellout for each home game, and FIU gets around 85 percent capacity each week.

In 2015, Apogee Stadium is averaging roughly 53 percent capacity.

“When seats start emptying out, I get worried,” UNT President Neal Smatresk said. “So I do want to see people engaged and in the seats.”

Additionally, a source close to the situation confirmed the actual attendance of the Thursday, Oct. 15 loss to Western Kentucky University was 5,422 – nearly half the size of the officially announced crowd.

Athletic director Rick Villarreal pointed to the fact that the game was on a Thursday, but the official number was still 40 percent lower than last year’s Thursday night game against Louisiana Tech University. It was also lower than a Thursday night game against Rice University in 2013 and a Tuesday night game against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2012.

The crowd, shown in the attached photos, was likely a response to the Mean Green’s record setting 66-7 loss to Portland State University on homecoming five days prior, where North Texas set a record for the biggest defeat for a Football Bowl Subdivision school by the hands of a Football Championship Subdivision team. That loss also resulted in the firing of former head coach Dan McCarney.

“I don’t blame people for leaving after that kind of performance,” Smatresk said. “Would I like to see better and more? Yes. Do I hope good fans will find reason to be hopeful now? Yes I do. But those things will come in time, and there’s a timing for all the things that are happening here.”

With basketball season right around the corner, the crowds at the Super Pit have declined in recent years as well. Compared to the 2011-2012 season where the Super Pit averaged 4,006 fans per game, attendance at men’s basketball games dropped 35 percent to 2,606 fans per game last season.

When asked about the declining basketball numbers, Villarreal pointed to a sinking national average in basketball attendance. But an NCAA report shows last season’s national totals were actually higher than the previous season and was also the eighth highest attendance total in NCAA history.

There were many empty seats at Apogee Stadium for the football team's game against Western Kentucky. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Attendance at this season’s Thursday game was down 40 percent from last year. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

North Texas men’s basketball was 45 percent less than the national average of 4,754 fans per home game.

“Do I worry about the decline? I think the decline happens at every institution when you don’t win as many games,” Villarreal said. “But I think there is a lot of positive talk about basketball right now.”

Performance has likely contributed to both men’s and women’s basketball attendance. On the men’s side, the team has yet to finish with a winning record since Tony Benford became head coach in 2012 with a 42-53 record in the span.

The women’s side has been worse, especially dating back to 2008. The Mean Green have endured seven straight losing seasons with a 68-144 record, a 0.320 winning percentage.

They’ve also had four 20-loss seasons, have never finished conference play with a winning record, and posted two seasons where the team only recorded five wins.

As a result, women’s attendance has averaged 1,000 or more fans per game only twice in the last seven seasons, with the lowest total being 654 per game in 2013-2014. But even with declining attendance numbers in all three of the “money” sports, Villarreal remains optimistic about the progress North Texas has made, citing a picture of Fouts Field that was on his desk when he took the athletic director job in 2001.

“You could count the 22 people in the stands. We’re not in that place anymore, not anywhere close,” Villarreal said. “Are we where we need to be? No. But that’s a culture that was built right around here for a long time. It doesn’t change overnight.”

Denny Kalk is an annual donor who has donated upwards of $5,000 to $10,000 annually since the 1970’s and had a team meeting room named after him and his wife at Fouts Field because of his contributions. This year, he downgraded his donation to the bare minimum of $500 per year for his Mean Green Club seats on the 50-yard line.

But even he does not go to games anymore, instead giving the tickets to his daughter.

“I just couldn’t take it,” Kalk said of the state of athletics.

Kalk, who said he was close to Villarreal when he became athletic director, said one reason he and some of his colleagues have pulled back donations and attendance is because of promises they felt were not kept by Villarreal back when Apogee Stadium opened.

“A lot of us put in a lot of money into it, and we were told about scheduling, we were told about special events, we were told all of this stuff. And nothing is happening,” Kalk said. “We were told there would be concerts. We were told, like the first year with Indiana and Houston coming in, we would see that yearly. And yet we have Portland State and Incarnate Word. Some of the non-conference opponents are just terrible.”

Kalk and other donors have said some of their counterparts are apprehensive about publicly speaking out in fear of being shamed by the athletic department.

Villarreal on the other hand believes the outcry is not as widespread as publicly perceived.

“The reality is, it’s a minute few who are very loud,” Villarreal said. “If there was a concern of what was going on in the program right now, I don’t think people would be writing million dollar checks. I don’t think people would be buying club level seats and doing those things in season.”

Smatresk had similar thoughts on alumni engagement.

“Just because there’s a human cry, doesn’t mean that’s a truly representative view,” Smatresk said.

North Texas football has two more home games this season, the next being Saturday, Oct. 31 at 6:00 p.m against the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the final one being in late November. Men’s basketball has 18 home games this season, including the season opener on Friday, Nov. 13, and the women’s team has 16.

The priority for Smatresk is to improve on the recent declining numbers.

“Clearly we want more home games and more wins and big crowds because that’s just good business. It’s common sense,” Smatresk said. “But there’s another piece that is as important, or even more important. And that’s the engagement of our alumni and engagement of fans and people who are from the community who love to support this institution. It’s best when our athletic programs are being very successful, particularly with football and basketball.”

Featured Image:  There were many empty seats at Apogee Stadium for the football team’s game against Western Kentucky. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photograph

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  1. No more donations
    No more donations October 29, 09:21

    President Smatresk is EXTREMELY out of touch with donors to athletics. Look for mean green club membership and donations to drop by half this year. Maybe one one cares. Villarreal has been here 15 years. The disaster that is this athletic department and subsequently major sorts failures lay at his feet. The next coaching hire will be yet another disaster. There is a reason no one cares about athletics at UNT, and his name is Rick Villarreal.

    Reply to this comment
  2. ClubLevelFan
    ClubLevelFan October 29, 09:47

    RV is incredibly arrogant for someone whose football hires have a 28-72 record. I am a club level donor and I WILL NOT be renewing my tickets next year if he is still here. No one else in my section will be either. we’ve discussed it and we have had it with the leadership in Mean Green Athletics. I hate that my money won’t support student athletes, but I have no idea how else to get our message across since the president not only ignored our letters but forwarded them to the athletic director.

    Reply to this comment
  3. UNTDoc
    UNTDoc October 29, 10:13

    As long as people are writing big checks, who cares about the average fan? Great move RV. Even better move by Smatresk to keep him employed. I have no hope for our future in athletics.

    Reply to this comment
  4. bbg0031
    bbg0031 October 29, 11:32

    Wait, Villareal said that our significant decrease in basketball attendance is because of the national decline, but last year reports show a substantial increase and actually the 8th highest mark ever recorded. Rick Villareal is in full damage control and has what I thought was an intelligent President Smastrek in his corner? I can’t make sense of any of this… And “minute few”…what does that mean?? The Majority wants Rick Villareal off of this campus. The opportunity revenue we are losing because of this man is astronomically higher than the 2 or 3 million dollar donations that he some how manages to bring in each year. Smastrek, get some of the economic and/or finance profs on top of this and let them tell you…let them.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Lee
    Lee October 29, 11:55

    I believe there is a typo. Surely, Dr. Smatresk said, “…there’s a hue and cry,” not, “…there’s a human cry.”

    Reply to this comment
  6. TBone
    TBone October 29, 12:41

    I have spoken with easily over a hundred alumni and fans that are all sick and tired of Rick Villarreal. More to the point it is fairly hard to find an Alumni that knows who Rick is and still wants him here. Sure Rick says it is a minority hell he probably tries to believe it that himself. But he is being delusional, and probably attempts to insulate himself with friends to avoid the truth, some informal polls have shown a landslide of people at round 97% want Rick gone immediately. Rick has been here too long it is time for new blood that can actually take North Texas to the next level, a level RV has done nothing but prove he is incapable of doing. As my Mom would have said, “Rick has made his bed now he needs to sleep in it.” Bad scheduling, bad hires, bad management of the Athletic Department, poor fundraising, and the list continues. Sorry Rick your time is over, Move On!

    Reply to this comment
  7. Studentopinion
    Studentopinion October 29, 14:49

    These reports of it being only a few who are upset with supporting less than mediocre teams are a blatant misrepresentation of the feelings of all North Texas fans. As a student I cannot talk to friends or at the bar about North Texas athletics. It is too embarrassing. Other colleges in the U.S. laugh when they hear about North Texas. I want to be a proud member of the athletic community as a fan instead of having to talk about TCU and Baylor I want to talk about my university! If that mean Rick Villarreal has to go… so be it.

    Reply to this comment
  8. connman
    connman October 29, 16:17

    Fire RV…. First year didn’t go to a game at apogee… Tickets were way to high to see a division II school…. When they brought the price down we started talking the kids to games and enjoyed seeing teams like Rice and middle Tennessee… Been to the SMU games and we love seeing a Battle of the DFW teams… I believe if there were more regional Texas schools coming in . it would create excitement… Ifyou schedule a tune up with a division II bring in SFA or Sam Houston or Texas state… NT is a division II school… If you can’t bring the students in… Make it more regional… And again fire RV…

    Reply to this comment
  9. Observer
    Observer October 29, 22:18

    Denton isn’t an all-out football town. Never has been, never will be. Oh, there’ve aways been some diehards and spikes in interest along the way, but without significant local support, no university sports programs will have dependably sold-out events, year in and year out. Proof: Administrators tried for years, but just couldn’t raise even half the $$$ for the stadium from alumni, other locals, and/or big-time donors, so had to slap a mandatory fee on the students for half the cost. That inability to raise construction costs remains a huge statement.

    Administrators insisted, “Build it and they will come.” But they didn’t come and aren’t coming and won’t come dependably, game after game, year after year. The emphasis could have been put on basketball – or golf! – when regents under Al Hurley, led by Bobby Ray prior to the hiring of Norval Pohl, decided the school must be a football power, a decision driven not by scholarship or what was best for students; it was driven by starry-eyed visions of massive payments for televised football games.

    Denton is a music, arts, education, science, business, and other academics town. And that’s just fine. Let’s embrace – and channel administrators’ time and efforts into – what we are, instead of relentlessly trying to be what we aren’t. We already have plenty of which we can be proud.

    Reply to this comment
  10. What...
    What... October 30, 09:16

    That moment when UNT’s Pokemon team are International Champions…

    Reply to this comment
  11. Dom
    Dom October 30, 23:04

    Rick Villarreal is an absolute joke for an AD. Any university with respect for its fans and athletics would have fired someone with his track record by now. Come on President Neal, sack up!

    Reply to this comment
  12. JC
    JC December 14, 23:20

    Who in the real world keeps a guy on the payroll that doesn’t produce. Someone needs to send the UNT top dogs in the administration to class- Business 101 and teach them some basic courses in being successful & profitable. RV has to go. How can you expect fans on the stands when all you do is go and waist 3 hours of your time looking at losers play. I think spending time shopping with my wife is more entertaining & fun then going to UNT games. In 1972-73 students began boycotting the football games until we hired Hayden Fry and changed the status from losing to winning. I remember going to Texas Stadium and seeing 40,000 plus fans see us beat SMU. Fry took us all the way to 16th in the AP polls. RV you have a “F” in my report card. UNT gives me a reason to buy tickets to the games; and I will.

    Reply to this comment

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