Sarah Gardner and Tyler Cook Belmont University



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Sarah Gardner and Tyler Cook
Belmont University
Conference Realignment and Attendance at Belmont Men’s Basketball Games

Conference Realignment and Attendance at Belmont Men’s Basketball Games

Abstract
Twenty-two Division 1 basketball programs will be playing in new conferences during the 2012-2013 season. One of the programs involved in conference realignment is Belmont University, a private university located in Nashville, Tennessee. Belmont is departing from the Atlantic Sun Conference (A-SUN), a conference they have been a member of since 2001. During their time in the A-SUN, Belmont established themselves as a dominant powerhouse in men’s basketball, making five NCAA tournament appearances in six seasons including 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 and most recently, in 2012.

Introduction

Belmont boasts undergraduate enrollment of roughly 5,000 students and 1,400 graduate students. Despite a total enrollment of almost 6,400 students, average attendance at Belmont men’s basketball games during the 2011-2012 season was just 1,802 fans per game. With their departure from the A-SUN Belmont will be joining the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC), a conference that averages 2,332 fans per game.

There is currently very little information available regarding the effects of conference realignment on attendance at men’s college basketball games. College basketball is the number two revenue generating sport in the NCAA and with such a high number of schools realigning in the upcoming season, and undoubtedly more to follow, we feel our research is relevant and timely. An increase in attendance also means an increase in revenue, the ultimate purpose and goal of any D-1 athletic program and a motivator for conference realignment. While each school is different and the choice to realign conferences is situational, we believe our research may help other medium-sized, private institutions when making the decision to realign.

The research question this study is examining is how conference realignment will affect attendance at home conference games during Belmont’s first season of realignment. We will not take attendance for non-conference games into account. We want to know if spectators are more interested in watching Belmont play the new conference opponents versus the previous conference opponents.

We are only taking attendance numbers and surveys from Belmont University, making it a limitation of the study. Another limitation is that we will only survey people attending home conference games and will be excluding non-conference games.

Literature Review

Over the last couple of years, conference realignment has become a prevalent topic in the world of college sports. While most school realignments are focused on an increase in football revenue, there is a handful of institutions realigning for other reasons. Belmont is one of these universities; a school whose 15 D-1 sports do not include a football team. Belmont’s transition into the Ohio Valley Conference has created many unanswered questions as to how it will affect the athletic department.

The issue we chose to focus on is how conference realignment would affect attendance for the men’s basketball team. The Belmont Men’s Basketball program has a strong history of success in the A-SUN. However, the travel distance between schools in the conference and general lack of natural rivalries caused attendance to hover around a thousand fans per game. Belmont’s decision to leave the A-SUN was focused on cutting travel costs, but will it improve attendance at home basketball games?

Our research will be both quantitative and qualitative in nature. We will compare attendance figures from last year’s home conference games (1,802 average fans per game) to this year’s home conference games to see whether conference realignment effects attendance (NCAA, 2012). We will also survey fans motives for attending home conference games this season to determine whether the new conference opponents are the reason for a change in attendance.

H1: We believe fan attendance will increase and fan motivation will be new opponents or a perceived “new challenge”.

There are a number of variables that could affect attendance and we want to address every possible angle. For example, the move to the OVC significantly decreases the travel distance between conference opponents. The decrease in distance will allow fans of opposing teams to make the trip to Nashville, which would increase attendance. The conference realignment may increase the number of Belmont fans as well; the appeal of new (and arguably, stronger) teams coming to play Belmont may prove to increase attendance at conference games.

While we were unable to find any research that studies the effects of conference realignment and attendance, there is research available which shows why college basketball attendance has generally decreased during the past few seasons. During the 2011-2012 season, men’s college basketball attendance dropped to a five-year low (Wolverton & Richards, 2012). The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), traditionally a basketball powerhouse conference, saw their regular season game attendance fall to less than 10,000 fans per game for the first time in recent history. Even the Cameron Crazies, the historic student section at Duke University, failed to fill their seats consistently during the regular season (Steve W, 2012).

As technology has advanced, so too has digital access to games over the past five years. Many people are now opting to watch their favorite teams from the comfort of their own homes rather than pay for tickets. The state of the economy is another reason for a decrease in ticket sales and attendance. As our country continues to struggle, the first items to be cut back on are luxury items, such as tickets to sporting events.

While technology and the economy are two major proponents for a decrease in attendance, the biggest reason might be conference realignment. Athletic departments are going to new lengths to chase the almighty dollar. As a result, natural rivalries are dissolving; some of these rivalries are a century old. For example, Kansas and Missouri have put their 120 year old rivalry on hold with Missouri set to join the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Rivalry games have been shown to increase attendance; when these games disappear, the fans do as well (Wolverton & Richards, 2012). These statistics may cause some concern in regard to our research, but will be addressed.

Methods


We will first compare the figures from the 2011 home games versus conference opponents to the figures from the 2012 home games versus conference opponents to determine if there is a significant change in attendance from season to season.

Additionally, during the 2012 home conference games, we will stand at two separate points of entry and randomly sample the attendees of that night’s basketball game. We will ask every third attendee to participate in our study. We will have two separate questionnaires: one with questions geared towards Belmont fans and one with questions geared toward the visiting team’s fans.

The first questionnaire, geared toward Belmont fans is aimed to gauge fan motivation from last season in the A-SUN versus this season in the OVC. We ask initial disqualifying questions which will determine whether the questionnaire can be used in our results or not. The survey continues, asking for fans perceptions on strength of conference and conference opponents. Fans can then tell us the main reason for their attendance at the particular night’s game; a good opponent, a special promotion going on, a social event, or any “other” reason.

The second questionnaire, geared toward the visiting team’s fans is aimed to gauge their motivation for attending an away game at Belmont University. We ask initial disqualifying questions which will determine whether the questionnaire can be used in our results or not. The survey continues, focusing on the fans travel distance to the game. One of the factors that went into Belmont’s decision to change conferences was the minimization on travel cost. Therefore, we would ask the visiting fans whether the travel distance was a factor into their decision to attend the game at Belmont.



Works Cited
Steve, W., & USA, T. (n.d). What's wrong with college basketball?. USA Today.
Wolverton, B., & Richards, A. (2012). Crowds Shrink at Men's Basketball Games. Chronicle Of Higher Education, 58(30), A2-A4.


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