Ryan Gilroy | The DePaulia
With DePaul now in its third season at Wintrust Arena, attendance numbers during the non-conference slate of games are up from last season, but still fall short from the marks set in their first season at Wintrust, according to documents obtained by The DePaulia via Freedom of Information Act.
Through the Blue Demons’ nine non-conference games this season, DePaul averaged 4,409 in paid attendance — the amount of tickets printed, sold and distributed. But the real attendance, the amount of people that had their tickets scanned at the stadium, sits at 2,105 over the same stretch.
Both of those numbers are up from last season, when the Blue Demons only averaged 3,902 in paid attendance and 1,274 in real attendance. According to athletic department officials, revenue is up this season, even though attendance figures have yet to surpass the first season at Wintrust.
During the 2017-18 season, DePaul averaged 5,765 in paid attendance and 2,615 in real attendance. If you omit the first game against Notre Dame, which saw over 7,000 people show up, as an outlier from the rest of the non-conference games, Wintrust saw an average attendance of 1,820 in its first year.
“I think playing in the CBI and having a pretty exciting buzz around campus and among our season ticket holders, I think really launched us into a good start for this year,” DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said. “And then I think with the men’s team getting off such a good start and the women’s team being ranked for almost the entire season, I think there’s a lot of energy and excitement about basketball. I also think that our marketing team and that our ticket office team, along with the athletes communications, I think all three of those departments have worked really cohesively.”
The first two games of the year saw a poor turnout against Alcorn State and the University of Chicago, with fewer than 1,000 people showing up for those games — but that is down from five instances in the 2018-2019 season.
But thanks to the team’s strong start and growing national buzz, attendance increased in December. For the Texas Tech game, which DePaul entered at 8-0, the reported attendance was 5,493.
“The energy is where I think a lot of folks are feeling it,” Associate Athletics Director of Ticket Sales and Operations Marty Murphy said. “Every game’s not sold out. There’s tickets still to be sold, but like the game against Butler it was one of our best crowds actually of all time there at Wintrust. But it started with the Texas Tech game. That’s where we could really start to feel momentum. Shift of the DePaul fans coming back out. Alumni getting excited. Faculty staff call on us to get their 10 percent off discount to come to a game. The student section was alive that night and the students were bringing friends to bring in their guest passes and stuff. That first game where you start to feel a shift of it’s a new atmosphere, Wintrust and people want to come because you are excited to see this team play.”
The biggest reported attendance this season came on Jan. 18 against Butler, which totaled 8,967 in paid attendance. Murphy said that game was DePaul’s third highest paid attendance game and second highest real attendance. Butler has routinely been one of DePaul’s most well attended home games, thanks in large part to a well traveled Butler fan base, that often out-attends DePaul fans.
“Right after we won [the Texas Tech] game it was nonstop in here,” Murphy said. “Alumni calling in, ‘hey, how can I get tickets to come to a game?’ and ‘is there any discounts for alumni?’ And we do have a 10 percent off alumni discount. We get to 10 percent on faculty staff discount. So we’re up in both those categories. Were up in attendance, were up in revenue. Student attendance is up.”
The increase in attendance can also be attributed to Wintrust’s improvement in parking and concessions, according to Lenti Ponsetto.
“I don’t want and I probably shouldn’t leave out the fact that we have worked out a lot of logistics issues that were kind of deterrents for fans,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “And actually just being much more communicative about where the bathrooms are a little thing like that. When you look at all the research that’s done, all the marketing research done, you know, parking and concessions are two main drivers and why fans will return.”
While the growth of attendance can be linked to the team’s success, Lenti Ponsetto downplays that factor as the main reason why people come back.
“And, you know, I think most people want to automatically think that it’s all about whether or not your team wins,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “It’s not necessarily that to be the case, because there are a lot of programs throughout the country where teams don’t win all the time. But it’s a great experience for their fans. And then people who have affinity for the programs come back and support the program.”
The early success of the team also drove up sales for prorated season tickets, which allow fans to buy season tickets for the rest of the season even if they missed the first couple games of the season.
“We sold more prorated season tickets this year than any season in the past 10 for sure, and probably in the past fifteen for prorated,” Murphy said. “Which would mean after the season started you could buy up until about midway through [next] December.”
Murphy also acknowledged that DePaul’s mini-plan revenue is up this season, close to 30,000 more than last season. But the goal for DePaul since moving into Wintrust has been about growing their attendance each year.
“So our goals have been about growth,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “And we weren’t looking to skyrocket out of the place. That was never our plan. When we look to build the building, our goal was to eventually get to a place where we’re averaging an eight to nine thousand range every night. But that was, that’s like at the outset for that’s where we would be after eight, nine or 10 years, because you can’t go from where we were to doubling, tripling while doubling it would probably be more like it. So, I think we feel good we feel good about the trajectory that we’re on.”
Logan Simios, who has been attending DePaul games since he was five, says the level of crowd interaction and attendance at Wintrust this season has been better and more exciting, but attendance is “nowhere it needs to be yet.”
Simios also mentioned that parking generally has been fine this season, but concessions remain “horrible” at Wintrust.
“Parking has been fine and it’s typically the same,” Simios said. “Concessions are horrible there. They are so slow, it’s unbelievable. And I went [on Saturday], and I don’t always go for concessions, but yesterday I went and we were in line waiting, waiting and waiting and it’s just horrible. I just think concessions are horrible, but parking has been similar.”
Simios mentioned that he has seen attendance go up this season with the team’s strong start, but says they still have a long way to go before reaching a good number.
“I think if they had more success, then fans would generally get on board,” he said. “But I think DePaul is in such a deep hole with their program and it’s not going to take a slow building process. You can’t build it as slowly as Jeanne and Dave [Leitao] want to do right now. I think you need some splashes in there. Splashes are going to be a new coach that can potentially be a splash coach, and I threw out Rick Pitino as someone. And I think we need to get more five-star local players. I think the local presence will generate Chicago fans to come back more, but they need to be four and five-star local talents.”