DePaul men’s basketball: Struggling team finds modest attendance boost


Amber Stoutenborough

Fans cheer on the men’s basketball team in DePaul’s opener against Loyola Maryland on Nov. 7, 2022. Wintrust Arena sold out for the first time on Jan. 28 against Marquette, per DePaul athletics.

As the clock hit zero, the Blue Crew’s chants cried out near the Xavier bench as DePaul, against all odds, upset the No. 8 team in the country at home in front of 2,924 fans on Wednesday, Jan. 18. 10 days later, Wintrust Arena, according to athletics, sold out for the first time in program history against Marquette with 7,514 in attendance.

“It felt pretty darn great to be able to announce a sell out, especially on National Blue Demon Day and against one of our biggest and long-time conference rivals,” said Marty Murphy, senior associate athletics director for ticket operations, sales and strategy. “We’ve come close to selling out before, but to literally have no more seats available for sale and have our student section tickets fully claimed as well, we couldn’t wait for game day to see the large crowd pour into Wintrust.”

Not only was the athletic department thrilled to announce the news, but DePaul head coach Tony Stubblefield and the team were grateful to experience a packed Wintrust Arena.

“Our guys were very excited,” Stubblefield said. “Playing in front of a sold out arena, it shows the potential of what they can really be again. Our marketing and administration has done a great job of promoting it, getting students out, getting people in the community and city of Chicago behind this. I couldn’t be more thankful for them and all of their hard work and their effort.”

The more than 7,500 fans in attendance was made up of a significant number of Marquette fans, since it is only 94 miles away from the Wintrust Area, and a large number of alumni from Chicago.

No fans were available for an interview, but senior associate athletics director for marketing and communications Kassidy Brown revealed that they reached out to organizations with complimentary tickets, which could have resulted in non-DePaul fans at certain games throughout the season.

“We learned this last year where we were making specific individual outreach to groups, inviting them to Wintrust with complimentary tickets,” said Brown. “We learned it was a lot of the first time that those folks were coming to DePaul for a basketball game and found success with them coming back.”

DePaul’s 2021-22 home attendance figures were low compared to nearly every other school in the conference. The official attendance numbers at Wintrust Arena from this past season revealed that attendance increased by 4% in 2022-23 from the season before.

“We saw increases across the board in attendance for men’s and women’s basketball,” Murphy said of the team’s increased attendance. “Our total season attendance increased over last year as well as our scanned-in turnstile rates. We saw nice improvements in our per-game averages for both men’s and women’s basketball in tickets out and revenue generated.”

The men’s basketball team took a step back this past season finishing the season 10-23 compared to finishing 14-16 the season prior. The team’s lack of success did not stop the fans from coming out to support the team, even during a 12-game losing streak to end the regular season.

During its losing streak, DePaul still saw at least 2,220 fans in three of its final four home games, outside of its Valentine’s Day night game against St. John’s, which only had 1,039 fans in attendance, the second lowest of the regular season.

Since Brown’s arrival at DePaul, she discovered a new way to bring the fans to Wintrust Arena, which includes having engaging halftime shows that heavily involve DePaul students.

“Some of the greatest and biggest national names such as Red Panda cost a good amount of money,” Brown said of the entertainment from this past season. “We like to sprinkle those premier halftime shows for the premier games and then find other ways to still provide entertainment for our fans.”

Looking towards the future, Brown wants to give more opportunities for youth halftime scrimmages and allow them to be more involved and experience exposure that they might not necessarily see elsewhere.

“Having scrimmages for youth truthfully always plays well,” Brown said of the plans for next season. “I like pulling the roster for the U10 boys team and getting their nicknames and putting on their playlist for them and having Gene Honda announce play-by-play for that. It gives a really good experience for not just the kids, but fans truly love it too.”

This season’s attendance numbers were at its peak in January 2023, when five of its six games saw at least 2,000 fans in attendance compared to the season prior, which included only two games reaching that number.

“A few factors jump out at me in regards to those January games where we saw the crowds start to build and the atmospheres get more intense,” Murphy said. “First, it was the height of college hoops season and basketball begins to come to mind after football season closes up. The students returned on campus after a six-week break, and we were welcoming our Big East conference opponents with name recognition and featured marquee matchups against ranked opponents.”

Murphy gives credit to DePaul upsetting No. 8 Xavier for the spike in attendance numbers, along with acknowledging that games typically see more fans during the holiday season.

“We usually see a nice uptick during and after the holiday season, but an exciting win over top-10 Xavier certainly turned a few heads and allowed us to put the Marquette game into a Sell Out situation and the UConn game crowd to build up as well,” Murphy said. “We also had a very robust neighborhood ticket campaign that allowed a taste test of DePaul Basketball to local families in hopes that they might attend once and come back to Wintrust Arena for more.”

Murphy wouldn’t get into too many details about the plans for next season, but mentioned that fans should expect to see a push towards flexibility and mobile ticket plans along with other experiential and more all-inclusive ticketing spaces.

DePaul saw significant improvement on a per game basis this season as this year’s home attendance was 2,235, while last year’s was 1,906. As DePaul continues to see an increase in attendance, the next step in the right direction will be to start winning games. 

“The team is going to be very athletic and compete night in and night out,” Stubblefield said of what the fans can expect next season. “I can tell you this: I think they will definitely get their money’s worth, and we’re looking forward to having them [fans] here.”