Hawkeyes want packed arena for Illinois showdown

Chad Leistikow
Iowa’s Gabe Olaseni drives to the hoop during last Thursday’s 81-47 win over Rutgers. The Thursday night game had many empty seats, as there were only 6,907 ticket scans among a paid attendance of 12,594.

With the Iowa basketball team on a roll again, will fans flock back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena?

The Hawkeyes won two Big Ten Conference games last week by a combined 62 points. After Sunday's 74-46 win at Nebraska, senior Aaron White said on the postgame radio show he hoped for a sellout crowd of 15,400 at the 8 p.m. Wednesday showdown with border-state rival Illinois.

"Obviously, it's an important week for us. It's an important game on Wednesday," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Monday. "Hopefully they'll listen to what Aaron's appeal was and come on out and fill this building up. We've had great crowds, it'd be nice to see it packed."

As of Monday, there were just over 1,000 tickets (at $27 apiece) available for the Illinois game. But tickets sold doesn't equate to seats occupied.

After Iowa's previous two-game winning streak, there were 9,498 ticket scans for what became a home loss to Minnesota — more than 4,000 less than the paid attendance of 13,756.

There were thousands of empty brown chairs during last week's 81-47 win over Rutgers, with a mere 6,907 ticket scans on a cold night. Paid attendance was 12,594, the lowest for Iowa in a Big Ten game since Feb. 27, 2013, game vs. Purdue.

A season ago, Iowa had eight sellout crowds in nine Big Ten home games; it is 3-for-7 this season.

Rick Klatt, Iowa's associate athletic director for external relations, said weeknight games are tougher draws, and 8 p.m. tip-offs — like Wednesday's — impact who decides to show up. Klatt pointed out that a sizable chunk of season-ticket holders are from the Des Moines area, which is about a 1-hour, 45-minute drive to Iowa City.

That means those fans might not return home until about 12:30 a.m.

"You hope that if they choose not to attend, they get those tickets into the hands of someone who will attend," Klatt said, "particularly when there's an important game like this."

And then there's the most confounding piece of the fan base — the UI students. Just 476 scans vs. Rutgers came from student tickets.

"They are a fickle group," said Klatt, noting that team success is a strong indicator in student turnout (Iowa had lost at Northwestern four days before the Rutgers game). "It's difficult sometimes to get them engaged to come on over."

With Iowa (17-10 overall, 8-6 Big Ten) just two victories away from its first above-.500 Big Ten season since 2006-07, McCaffery thinks there's good reason for a strong turnout. That Illinois (17-10, 7-7) is jockeying with Iowa in the postseason pecking order increases the stakes.

"Very appreciative of how they've supported us, certainly since the time I've been here, because we weren't that good in the beginning," said McCaffery, who saw average home attendance increase in each of his first four seasons at Iowa. "The kids played hard, and we kept getting better. I think we've got a great team that they could enjoy watching. I think we've got kids that compete that they can relate to."


Iowa's seven Big Ten Conference home-game crowds at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, which has a capacity of 15,400 (*—weekend game), with tip-off times listed:

15,400 — Ohio State, 1 p.m., Jan. 17* (W 76-67)

15,400 — Wisconsin, 11 a.m., Jan. 31* (L 74-63)

15,400 — Maryland, 2:15 p.m., Feb. 8* (W 71-55)

15,054 — Michigan State, 6 p.m., Jan. 8 (L 75-61)

13,756 — Minnesota, 6 p.m., Feb. 12 (L 64-59)

12,789 — Nebraska, 8 p.m., Jan. 5 (W 70-59)

12,594 — Rutgers, 7 p.m., Feb. 19 (W 81-47)