CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami/AP) — Slowly but surely, the Miami Hurricanes basketball team has been becoming more and more relevant in the world of college hoops.
Miami was picked fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s preseason rankings, is flirting with the Top 25 in the major national polls and is widely expected to be an NCAA Tournament team.
Those would all be considered good signs.
Here’s another: People are actually buying Miami tickets.
The Hurricanes could be the first team in Miami history — or at least since such records were kept, according to university officials — to sell out its allotment of season tickets.
And that suggests the Hurricanes may not face so much of a struggle this year to draw fans into their on-campus Bank United Center.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “This is our fifth year. And we can see the progress we’ve made.”
The university said more than 5,400 season tickets have been purchased, with fewer than 500 remaining. The arena’s listed capacity is about 8,000.
“If you talk to a recruit and tell him we’re sold out for every home game as opposed to having 2,000 fans, it makes a big difference to him,” said Larranaga, whose previous coaching stops at Bowling Green and George Mason also saw large spikes in attendance during his tenure.
To put it mildly, Miami is a challenging place when it comes to ticket sales.
When a team is doing well and games seem more like events, everyone wants to be in the stands — the Miami Heat, for example, recorded their 250th consecutive sellout Sunday night, including postseason games.
But when a home team isn’t doing well, or even when it’s expected to roll past an overmatched opponent, Miami doesn’t seem to notice.
Baseball’s Marlins typically play in a largely empty downtown Miami stadium, even after getting their own facility just a few years ago.
The Florida Panthers have had huge attendance woes for years, the Hurricanes’ football team struggles to get people into its games at Sun Life Stadium and even the Miami Dolphins aren’t the same draw as they were in South Florida for decades.
“What I had heard (when taking the Miami job) was there wasn’t interest in basketball, which I knew not to be true,” Larranaga said. “One of the things about fans is they like to follow winners. … They want to be around a team that they think is going to be really, really good.”
Miami won 25 games last season. Hence, there’s a buzz.
So selling tickets, that’s been no problem this season. Getting people to use them, that’s the next issue.
The Hurricanes, on average, distributed 5,525 tickets per game last season. But the actual average number of people inside the building was roughly 40 percent lower, with only 3,534 actually going through the turnstiles on game nights.
And some fans make no secret that they buy season tickets just to ensure they have seats to the “big” home games, a list that this season includes Florida, Duke, Louisville, Virginia, Notre Dame and Syracuse.
“Our fans, like any other group of fans, really like the excitement of knowing it’s a big game,” Larranaga said.
In an effort to help offset that, Larranaga will keep trying whatever he can to lure people inside on game nights.
This week, Miami will do what it calls “dormstorming” to try and push students to games.
Larranaga has made a point to promote ticket sales during his camps for kids, knowing that if Miami gets the kids, it’ll likely get the parents as well.
The home opener is Friday. It’s a measuring stick, in more ways than one.
“I think we’ve done all we can,” Larranaga said.
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