On Tuesday night the reported attendance for UConn’s contest against the Creighton Bluejays, at the XL Center was 10,443 — just 67% of the 15,558 capacity the arena boasts. Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, the Huskies’ on-campus arena, holds 10,167 people. If you took the people from the XL Center Tuesday and placed them in Gampel, the seats would be completely filled and the stadium would have been rocking as the Huskies mounted a comeback on a hot shooting Creighton squad. But instead, the game was in Hartford, 35 minutes from campus on a good day at 6:30 p.m. — a time when many students are still finishing up their classes. How can UConn expect people (namely, students) to show up to a game when it’s half an hour away, leaving hardly any time to leave class and get there on time?
The answer is that can’t. And that was proven Tuesday, with the XL’s capacity just eclipsing two-thirds capacity. I can lament my feelings about this all day, but let’s just jump into some data. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, in-conference games (excluding 2020-21 because all games were played at Gampel without fans), the Huskies are 9-11 at the XL center and 19-4 at Gampel. The reason I only included conference games is because the full schedule includes early season buy games at Gampel, which would inflate the winning percentage.
Many people may look at these stats and say, “The reason they perform so poorly at XL is because they play their tougher games there to draw a bigger crowd.” This sounds nice in theory, but it is simply not true. In ranked games in the same span, UConn is 0-4 at XL and 2-1 at Gampel. Playing just seven ranked games in 4.5 seasons at home is not a big sample size, but it is significant that both of the team’s wins occurred on campus.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m fine watching weekend games at XL. People can actually dedicate their day to getting into Hartford without having to worry. But trying to get people to go 35 minutes off campus on a weekday is just proven not to work. The atmosphere isn’t as good on a weekday in Hartford and fewer people come. Play the weekday games at Gampel, get a nice student turnout and win the game.
Admittedly, there is a catch to moving weekday games to Storrs: Hartford-based UConn fans will have to make the same commute that Storrs-based UConn fans would have had to make. However, Hartford residents are more likely to have cars than students, who cannot have cars on campus until they have taken 54 credits, which takes roughly four semesters. Considering the student body, as well as Gampel’s more limited seating capacity, there isn’t as urgent a need to shepherd Hartford-based fans to Gampel games as opposed to XL games.
The bottom line here is we have to step back and assess what the goal is here. Is the goal to get as many paying adults as possible into the stadium? Or is it to let students appreciate the greatness of their collegiate basketball teams? UConn will need to figure this out since the current formula is not working as well as it could be. It’s also worth noting that if students are let in for free now, they are more likely to become loyal, paying fans of UConn basketball in the future. Either way, there’s a tradeoff, so UConn will have to take a long look at what it wants to do and if it wants to continue on this path.