The “Cameron Crazies” who line the court at Duke‘s Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC, are the gold standard in college basketball for enthusiastic student sections. But some early-season college hoop match-ups can lack the luster that will pack the house.
Traditional powers try to fatten records before conference play begins. And empty seats don’t look good on television. One big-time program is trying to solve that problem by turning to the students in the cheaper seats.
Last season, the University of Texas introduced its “Benchwarmers” program for basketball games at the Frank Erwin Events Center in Austin.
Fans — usually students — sitting in the mezzanine level at the Erwin Center can get a wristband that identifies them as “Benchwarmers” to ushers within the lower arena level. That wristband then becomes their ticket to an empty arena-level seat.
If the actual ticket holder arrives later to claim the seat, they’re instructed to say, “Thanks for keeping it warm!” The Benchwarmer then returns to their original seat in the mezzanine.
“It’s really about creating as much atmosphere as we can close to the court,” Terry Pierce, the Texas Longhorns’ assistant athletics director for marketing, told TicketNews. Pierce said the program has been successful and will continue this season, which begins November 13, when Boston University visits the Erwin Center.
Of course, cooperation is the key when it’s time to give up the “warmed” seat.
“It works as long as people understand what it’s all about,” Pierce said.
In a press release announcing the initiative last season, the university acknowledge that “it can, at times, be difficult for people to make it to their seats by tip-off or…make every game of the season.” As a direct result, the Benchwarmers program was “designed to keep our arena level full for every game.”
Some fans of rival Big 12 schools panned the program on Internet message boards as another example of fan apathy. Zach Anderson, chief operating officer of Texas-based TicketCity, said it comes with the territory for early-season games.
“The non-conference schedule can be brutal on these teams [in terms of ticket sales],” Anderson told TicketNews. “Outside of a visit from your traditional powers — Kentucky, North Carolina, UConn — it can be tough to fill the building.”
For example, Anderson said some schools give big donors of the college football program tickets to all sports, including basketball. “But that donor may live out-of-state, and he’s willing to drive in for only the one Saturday college football game per week.”
Creating a student-only section, close to the floor, doesn’t always work either.
“Everybody looks at Duke students packing the one side of the court, and they want that,” Anderson said of the “Crazies,” who fill 1,200 of Cameron’s 7,000 seats. “But sometimes students [at other schools] can’t carry the water for all these games, and they don’t want to be stuck waiting in long [student ticket] lines.”