Whispers at Wintrust: Men’s basketball looks to up attendance from last in Big East


Nate Burleyson

DePaul Men’s Basketball coach Tony Stubblefield watches his team in an exhibition matchup against Montevallo in 2021.

The DePaul men’s basketball team is on the verge of returning to relevance, whether that starts off with winning the Big East, landing highly-touted national recruits, or even solidifying a sustainable winning culture under second year head coach Tony Stubblefield. 

DePaul is a basketball school, so the last thing the team should want to see is a repeat of underwhelming attendance figures seen a year ago. 

DePaul men’s basketball’s 2021-22 home attendance figures are hard to ignore, especially when they are astronomically low compared to nearly every other school in the Big East conference.

“We know the numbers, it is not like it was a surprise,” said Vice President and Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy. “There were a lot of factors that went into the actual number, not saying whether or not we were going to be last in the Big East, but we are in a great league with a bunch of attendances that were season ticket holder bases bigger than ours. We have also had a tradition of five straight losing seasons before last year, a lot of factors went into it.”

DePaul’s home attendance figures from last season finished at 58,616 at Wintrust arena, which averaged out to 3,256 per game. Creighton led the conference with 249,158 and outside of DePaul, Georgetown was the second lowest with 93,927. 

“I am very appreciative of the fans that did come out,” said Stubblefield. “I just want to thank the fans for coming out and supporting us. Obviously, in these situations you would like for that to grow and I think it will grow over time, but we are just very very appreciative of the ones who did support the team last year and make it a great home court advantage at Wintrust [Arena].

One of the biggest concerns regarding DePaul’s home attendance, is the fact they are in the biggest market compared to their rivals. Wintrust Arena is located in the heart of downtown Chicago. 

“I would not be here as Athletic Director if that was not an issue,” Peevy said. “Obviously, we need to get basketball back to being Chicago’s team. There is a lot of interest, a ton of graduates in Chicago and people love DePaul. They have an interest and they follow it. They just are not coming to the games right now because there is not a fear of missing out yet.”

Spectators view a basketball game at Wintrust Arena. (Donald Crocker)

No other team in the Big East plays in a comparable market except for St. John’s, who play in Queens, New York. St. John’s still managed to average 6,273 fans per game, which was 3,017 more than DePaul last season.

A lot of factors came into the play, especially regarding DePaul’s marketing staff. At this time a year ago, DePaul had no plans in place regarding basketball marketing because the department lost its top two staff members to other jobs. At the beginning of the basketball season last November, they had no marketing team in place.

“We had nobody,” Peevy said. “Just to get through the season, I felt blessed, so by the time we got to the end of the year, hiring Kassidy Brown and Jessica Dorsey were on board in February, we were at a chance to put things in place and learn a lot of what we were doing. Now, we’ve hired Jessica Leah, who was one of our grad assistants from last year, to fully compliment our three-person staff. We are ready to attack this year and I think both men and women’s basketball will benefit greatly, just because we have plans in place on how do we get people’s butts in seats.” 

Kassidy Brown joined DePaul’s marketing team mid-season, right around the start of conference play. She wanted to see things through before coming up with any plans on her own, but now that it’s the start of a new season, she has a better understanding of what needs to be done.

“Something that I realized was that there was such a misconception on DePaul students not caring about sports,” said Brown. “I do not think that is the case. We are trying to do things 365 [days] year round and get kids more involved in wanting to go to events. We have met with a ton of student groups on campus and they want to see more game specific promotions.”

DePaul’s marketing plan going forward to increase attendance for the upcoming season will solely be focused on enhancing the game day experience. DePaul will be bringing back Billy Blue Demon night and the speed painter auction for students. The goal is to find more unique fan experiences that will draw students and fans to games. Something that is also being explored is bringing in local musical artists to sing and perform the national anthem.

“We are working really heavily with our marketing student interns, who have a very good feel of what the student body wants,” said Brown. “Mainly geared towards our students, but also from a season ticket holder perspective, we want to make sure they’re valued as much as they are. So we will be hosting more exclusive season ticket holder events for them.”

The Blue Demons have high expectations heading into the upcoming season.Tony Stubblefield believes that when you start winning, you are then building the right culture for what you are trying to do when it involves building a successful basketball program.

“Wintrust Arena is one of the best arenas in the country,” said Stubblefield. “It’s a great home-court advantage. We saw that last year and when you even just have four to five to even six thousand people it can get very loud. Being successful will bring the fans out to Wintrust Arena.”

Connect with Tom Gorski: @ThomasGorski33 | [email protected]