How Kentucky basketball fans can boost slumping Vanderbilt attendance

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Bryce Drew recalls the highs and lows of a 92-84 loss to No. 23 Tennessee. Adam Sparks

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Vanderbilt Commodores fans during the second half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017.(Photo: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean)Buy Photo

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has its lowest average home attendance in 53 years, but Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation could fix that.

The game is often the highest-attended on Vanderbilt’s home schedule. And a big crowd — though plenty of it donning blue — is needed in Saturday’s game (3 p.m., ESPN) at Memorial Gym to boost slumping attendance figures.

Vanderbilt has averaged 8,734 per home game this season with eight home games remaining. If it stayed there, it would be Vanderbilt’s lowest attendance since averaging 8,235 in the 1964-65 season. But 53 years ago, that was near Memorial Gym‘s capacity.

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Two Kentucky fans show their support in a sea of blue at the SEC Championship game at Bridgestone Arena Sunday March 13, 2016 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean)

It will get better, but how much?

The good news is that the average home attendance should rise. It almost always does late in the season.

Vanderbilt’s attendance usually spikes during SEC play, when more attractive games draw more Commodores fans and visiting fans to Memorial Gym.

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The bad news is that Vanderbilt usually has a better record. The Commodores’ 6-10 mark is tied for their worst 16-game start since the 1977-78 season. Granted, a tough non-conference schedule and other factors led to that record, but do fans care about those reasons when purchasing a ticket?

drew a season-high crowd of 11,510. But with the Commodores struggling this season, that figure was down from last season’s Tennessee game, which drew 12,235 at Memorial Gym.

So if Vanderbilt doesn’t start winning, will fans still come in increasing numbers? Time will tell.

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Vanderbilt guard Larry Austin Jr. (3) reacts to defeating Vanderbilt at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) and forward Admiral Schofield (5) react to defeating Vanderbilt at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield (5) reacts to their victory over Vanderbilt at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard Saben Lee (0) passes past Vanderbilt guard Saben Lee (0) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes watches his team face Vanderbilt during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard James Daniel III (3) advances past Vanderbilt guard Payton Willis (1) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) shoots against Vanderbilt during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew disputes a call during the first half against Tennessee at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard Payton Willis (1) shoots past Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew watches his team face Tennessee during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield (5) collides with Vanderbilt guard Maxwell Evans (10) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt center Djery Baptiste (12) shoots past Vanderbilt guard Maxwell Evans (10) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) shoots over Vanderbilt center Djery Baptiste (12) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield (5) maneuvers past Vanderbilt guard Payton Willis (1) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Chris Darrington (32) is guarded by Vanderbilt guard/forward Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes watches his team face Vanderbilt during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard Payton Willis (1) advances through Tennessee guard James Daniel III (3) and forward John Fulkerson (10) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) battles Vanderbilt forward Clevon Brown (15) and forward Jeff Roberson (11) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard Payton Willis (1) advances with Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard/forward Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) battles Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) advances past Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance (13) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) shoots over Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance (13) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt forward Clevon Brown (15) guards Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) during the first half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) guards Vanderbilt guard/forward Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance (13) reacts after being fouled during the second half against Tennessee at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner (1) guards Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance (13) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt forward Clevon Brown (15) is guarded by Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) and guard Jordan Bowden (23) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard/forward Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) battles Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt forward Clevon Brown (15) battles Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner (1) advances against Vanderbilt during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes watches his team face Vanderbilt during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew watches his team face Tennessee during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance (13) battles Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard/forward Joe Toye (2) shoots over Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield (5) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner (1) battles Vanderbilt guard Maxwell Evans (10) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) shoots over Vanderbilt forward Clevon Brown (15) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) moves past Vanderbilt guard/forward Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) shoots over Vanderbilt forward Clevon Brown (15) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) scores against Vanderbilt during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Vanderbilt guard/forward Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) gains control of the ball against Tennessee during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) shoots over Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance (13) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield (5) battles Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance (13) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) signals to teammates against Vanderbilt during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) battles Vanderbilt guard/forward Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) during the second half at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.  Andrew Nelles / Tennessean

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Slumping attendance not just a Vanderbilt problem

Average home attendance for Division I college basketball has steadily declined for 11 consecutive seasons from 5,327 per home game in 2006-07 to 4,633 last season, according to the NCAA database.

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Even Kentucky has seen a drop-off this season. It has averaged 21,445 at Rupp Arena through 11 home games this season compared to an average of 23,100 through its first 11 home games last season.

Vanderbilt also has more local competition in selling tickets in its market than most SEC schools. After all, Nashville has an NFL playoff team and an NHL team coming off a Stanley Cup Final run. Tickets to a Commodores’ basketball game are not at the top of the list for many fans like they were 20 years ago.

How Kentucky fans can help

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Kentucky fans during their game against Alabama in the 2017 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena Saturday, March 11, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean)

So this is where Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation comes in.

Vanderbilt will hold a Blackout for Saturday’s game, as fans are encouraged to wear the Commodores’ primary color. But Kentucky fans undoubtedly will sprinkle plenty of blue throughout Memorial Gym, and this game drew 12,707 last season.

If Saturday‘s game brings the same crowd as last season, Vanderbilt‘s average home attendance would rise to 9,095. That would still be behind last season‘s average through 11 home games (9,617), but at least closing the gap.

A big crowd against Kentucky, regardless of fans‘ affiliation, would boost Vanderbilt’s home attendance. And if the Commodores pulled off a win, it may spark a surge for the remainder of the season, as Vanderbilt tries to recapture and rebuild Memorial Magic.

Reach Adam Sparks at asparks and on Twitter .

 

VANDERBILT BASKETBALL HOME ATTENDANCE SINCE 1999

(Average per game each year)

Bryce Drew tenure (2016-present)

2017-18: 8,734*

2016-17: 9,636

Kevin Stallings tenure (1999-2016)

2015-16: 11,135

2014-15: 8,862

2013-14: 9,534

2012-13: 10,637

2011-12: 13,698

2010-11: 13,802

2009-10: 13,623

2008-09: 13,276

2007-08: 13,418

2006-07: 12,030

2005-06: 12,197

2004-05: 10,088

2003-04: 11,312

2002-03: 9,570

2001-02: 8,843

2000-01: 9,814

1999-00: 10,987

*Only includes 10 home games
 

NEXT GAME

NO. 20 KENTUCKY (13-3, 3-1 SEC) AT VANDERBILT (6-10, 1-3)

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

TV/Radio: ESPN/1510 AM, 98.3 FM

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew on the Commodores' worst start in 72 years | 1:12

Vanderbilt posted a 3-6 record before taking 11 days off for exams. By Mike Organ

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Bryce Drew discusses Perry Wallace's impact on Vanderbilt | 0:28

Drew said he hopes the program will be able to represent Wallace in a good way moving forward. Colton Pouncy/USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Vandy coach Bryce Drew discusses his team's 79-76 win over UNC Asheville | 0:57

The Commodores improved to 2-1 on the young season, pulling out a nail-biting 79-76 win against UNC Asheville Friday night. Colton Pouncy/USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew after loss to Belmont | 1:05

The Commodores loss to the Bruins 69-60 at Curb Event Center By Mike Organ

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Darius Garland chooses Vanderbilt, UCLA a close second | 0:55

Brentwood Academy star Darius Garland committed to Vanderbilt on Monday. Autumn Allison/USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Vanderbilt opened the season with a win over Austin Peay | 1:08

The Commodores made nine 3-pointers in the 73-54 victory at Memorial Gym By Mike Organ

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee: Who is the better SEC team? | 3:47

Joe Rexrode and Adam Sparks debate which team is better this season, Tennessee or Vanderbilt. Autumn Allison/USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Fisher-Davis ready to move past NCAA tourney foul, lead Vanderbilt | 1:11

Vanderbilt‘s Matthew Fisher Davis addressed the ill-timed foul against Northwestern in the NCAA tournament with a video on Twitterr. Autumn Allison/USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Year two of Bryce Drew not without challenges for Vanderbilt | 0:34

Bryce Drew, Vanderbilt coach, told the press that this year the team will have to find ways to replace high-producing seniors. Autumn Allison/USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Recruitment winding down for BA star Darius Garland | 0:57

Brentwood Academy point guard Darius Garland, widely regarded as one of the nation‘s top prep point guards, has narrowed his list of finalists to Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Indiana and UCLA Michael Murphy / The Tennessean

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CLOSEVANDERBILT BASKETBALL 2017-18 SEASON Vanderbilt basketball's fabulous freshmen | 0:47

Point guard Saben Lee, shooting guard Maxwell Evans and center Ejike Obinna have joined the Vanderbilt basketball team this summer. Adam Sparks

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  • Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew on the Commodores' worst start in 72 years
  • Bryce Drew discusses Perry Wallace's impact on Vanderbilt
  • Vandy coach Bryce Drew discusses his team's 79-76 win over UNC Asheville
  • Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew after loss to Belmont
  • Darius Garland chooses Vanderbilt, UCLA a close second
  • Vanderbilt opened the season with a win over Austin Peay
  • Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee: Who is the better SEC team?
  • Fisher-Davis ready to move past NCAA tourney foul, lead Vanderbilt
  • Year two of Bryce Drew not without challenges for Vanderbilt
  • Recruitment winding down for BA star Darius Garland
  • Vanderbilt basketball's fabulous freshmen

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