Butler University’s move to the Big East Conference for the 2013-14 academic year will not only have an impact on the Butler men’s basketball team but also on Butler’s fans.
Butler basketball’s success in the Big East could prove the conference change was the correct move and maintain fan support. Or Butler could struggle, and fan support could decline.
No one knows for sure how well Butler basketball will perform in the Big East.
With the team’s success under coach Brad Stevens, at least one season ticket holder is confident Butler can compete with its new conference members.
“I don’t think there is any doubt in anybody’s mind that Butler will be able to compete,” said Craig Kessler, Butler basketball season ticket holder. “They proved it this year in the Atlantic 10 and proved it in the NCAA tournament in recent years.”
There will be new obstacles for Butler basketball, but Matt Harris, manager of fan development, said the Bulldogs are capable of overcoming them.
“It’s certainly going to be challenging,” Harris said. “I have no reason to think that our coaching staff and our players will not be up to that challenge. We have risen up to every challenge we’ve had and have become a national power.”
Sophomore Braxton Blakley said he expects the team to play as hard as possible each game.
“I don’t expect Butler to be rolled over by anyone, but with the elite competition, we will see what happens,” Blakley said. “I expect Butler to be a tough matchup for any team in the Big East.”
With more national attention being placed on the program and more well-known schools traveling to Butler for games, ticket prices may increase at Hinkle Fieldhouse next season.
“I am not worried about it, but I certainly expect it,” Kessler said. “It is a reasonable thing for the university to do. I am sure willing to pay a little bit more to see Georgetown play at Hinkle.”
If Butler men’s basketball succeeds in the new conference, the Butler community could face new concerns.
If there is a greater demand for tickets, it would lead to Hinkle selling out more often.
This could leave some fans with a seat on their couch instead of in the fieldhouse crowd.
Harris said he does not see this as a problem.
“I don’t know if we are necessarily at that point yet,” Harris said. “We sold out five games this year, which was a record. I expect to do as well or maybe better next year.”
Michael Freeman, associate athletic director, said he is not concerned about this potential issue either.
“We averaged right at about 7,900 in the building last year for men’s basketball games, and our capacity is higher than that,” Freeman said. “We would love to sell more season tickets, and we will this upcoming year.”
While an increase in ticket sales would add to the university’s revenue, it could cause a conflict with student seating at games.
Freeman said this issue will remain up in the air until ongoing renovations and seating adjustments are complete at Hinkle.
“We average around 650 to 750 students per game,” Freeman said. “We have never told a student they couldn’t come to a game. We will be able to accommodate a very large percentage of our student body going forward.”
If the men’s basketball team underperforms, the athletics department may not have to deal with these potential issues.
Fans like to cheer for a winning team.
If Butler has consecutive losing seasons, game attendance could drop.
Ticket sales would also be affected by poor performance.
“A certain amount of our sales are dependent on wins and losses and how the team’s doing,” Freeman said. “There is also a portion of it depending on who we are playing.”
Harris is confident the current fan base will stay regardless of how the team’s first season in the Big East goes.
“Our fan base grows and consistently comes to games because they support what we are doing,” Harris said. “If we had a losing season, that fan base will still continue to grow.”
“Butler fans are pretty hardcore,” Kessler said. “It doesn’t matter if they have a losing season or not.
“There is going to be a strong core contingency that wants to see them play.”
If the Bulldogs perform poorly in the Big East initially, Kessler said he is confident the team will quickly turn things around.
“I don’t think anyone would expect (struggles) to last very long,” Kessler said, “because the ability to recruit in the Big East will be there and would help them more than if they were in the Horizon League.”