Last year, laggardly attendance figures at women’s games forced the Big 12 to separate its men’s and women’s basketball tournament sites and game weekends. The men stayed in Kansas City. The women moved to Dallas.
After being in house at the American Airlines Center last weekend, it was evident that the Big 12 made the right choice. Big time.
Using Baylor as our litmus (a fair thing to do since the Lady Bears are consistently the league’s top draw), attendance figures ballooned from 2012 to 2013.
In their three games at the tourney in Kansas City last year, all blowouts, the Lady Bears averaged 5,061 fans. They never drew more than 5,542, and the final against Texas A&M, which was an incredibly juicy matchup, yielded just 4,235. It should be noted that the final was played at 11 a.m. on a Saturday.
Without the men hogging the city and game-time spotlight (they play this weekend), the results were considerably better this year. Baylor averaged 7,734 fans at its three games this year, including a whopping 8,662 during the final against Iowa State. That’s more than 3,000 more fans than showed up for Baylor-A&M in 2012, a much feistier rivalry.
Of course, proximity helps. Dallas is much closer to Waco than Kansas City, and there is a sizeable contingent of Baylor alumni in the Metroplex. Still, giving the women’s tourney its own weekend and its own showcase clearly helped up attendance and interest, and not just in Baylor games. I saw plenty of fans dressed in colors from across the Big 12 throughout the weekend.
For now, Baylor has an extended layoff to deal with. The Lady Bears find out their tourney position Monday (undoubtedly the No. 1 overall seed), which punctuates a 13-day layoff between the end of the Big 12 tourney and Baylor’s first NCAA tourney game.
As for ideas on how to spend the break, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey has a few ideas.
“We’ll give them those two days off, and we’re getting back in the gym and I don’t even know if we’ll pick a basketball up for a couple of days,” Mulkey said Monday after Baylor’s title-clinching win over Iowa State. “I just think we need to get back to the fundamentals of what we lost focus of against Oklahoma State, and that was defense.”