IOWA CITY, Ia. – The Des Moines Register headline following Fran McCaffery’s first media day as Iowa’s basketball coach read: “Can McCaffery’s system boost Iowa’s lowly attendance?”
The answer, three years later, is a million-dollar yes.
Men’s basketball generated $3,115,004 in ticket revenue last season, according to figures provided by the Iowa athletic department. Average paid attendance was 13,625, the highest since 2001-02, Steve Alford’s third season at Iowa.
In 2009-10, the year before McCaffery arrived, ticket revenue was $1,909,570. Average paid attendance was 9,550, the lowest in the 31-year history of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. And Todd Lickliter was cut loose after three seasons as coach.
McCaffery’s teams, and the attendance, have improved every year since. Friday, when the team makes its first public appearance at the annual Black and Gold Blowout at Carver-Hawkeye, the festivities will include special team introductions, a dunk contest and an air of anticipation.
Getting to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, and winning a game there for the first time in 13 seasons, are among the lofty expectations in place for McCaffery’s fourth Hawkeye team.
A home-court advantage will help the Hawkeyes achieve those goals. According to figures provided by the Iowa ticket office this week, 10,837 season tickets have been sold so far – 8,499 to public and staff, 2,338 to students. Last year, 8,449 season tickets were sold – 6,805 to public and staff, 1,644 to students. Iowa has passed the 10,000-mark in season ticket sales for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
For his efforts, McCaffery will make $1.5 million this season, his fourth at Iowa. That will increase to $1.8 million next season if the Hawkeyes are awarded an NCAA Tournament bid in March.
Factoring in the jump in ticket revenue, McCaffery sounds like a bargain.
Style of play has been a selling point for Iowa basketball under McCaffery. Lickliter’s three Iowa teams failed to reach at least 60 points in a game 54 times. That’s happened 17 times in three seasons under McCaffery. But the ultimate bottom line, when it comes to selling tickets, is winning. Lickliter was 38-57 in three seasons. McCaffery, who was 11-20 in his first season, is now 54-50.
Iowa has received some national attention, landing in numerous Top 25 preseason polls. If McCaffery is successful this season, he’ll do it with depth. His 11-man rotation will allow him to adjust to the challenge at hand.
He’ll also do it with a lineup devoid of star power from a national perspective. Devyn Marble was a third-team all-Big Ten pick by coaches last season. Aaron White was a third-team pick by the media. That’s it.
CBSSports.com recently ran a list of the nation’s Top 100 players. No Hawkeyes.
The website also ran a list of the top 30 big men, the top 30 point guard/combo guards and the top 30 wings. No Hawkeyes.
But that hasn’t slowed business at the Carver-Hawkeye ticket office or the drumbeat of expectations. McCaffery has embraced, not avoided, those expectations.
He calls an NCAA bid “the next logical step,” and adds, “I just want to be better than we were last year.”
The program was rock bottom when McCaffery took over.
Then, survival was the buzz word. Three years later, the headlines speak about high expectations.
“I’ve had teams, even here, in both situations, where we’ve had expectation and had no expectation,” McCaffery said. “Clearly you want to be in a position where everybody thinks you’re going to be good.”
Iowa has won the expectation game, reflected by the growing ticket sales. But winning games on the floor will be the ultimate challenge.
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball