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Analyzing Maryland women’s basketball’s attendance

The Terps’ attendance has been a hot topic of late.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 04 Women’s Nebraska at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Maryland fans are fortunate to have two basketball programs with a winning pedigree. Winning comes with expectations, though, and consequentially, criticism.

The women’s basketball team has been in and around the top 10 in average attendance for the past decade, but after the Terps’ 72-64 win against a top 15 opponent in Michigan, the lack of fans present for such a massive matchup became a topic of conversation.

After that game, head coach Brenda Frese said, “Come out and support this team. There’s not many games left when you talk about having only five games remaining with a top 10 team right in your backyard. So come out and see this great team play because you don’t have many opportunities left.”

In the days following the win, senior guard and team captain Brinae Alexander took to Twitter in a series of posts to call out the disparity in attendance between the men’s and women’s games.

The men’s team, whose attendance has more than doubled the women’s over the past 20 years, has averaged an announced attendance of 13,218 fans per game this season, despite the women having more sustained on-court success and being ranked No. 8 in the country.

Of course, this represents a systemic problem among women’s sports. South Carolina leads the nation with an announced average of 12,473 fans per game, making it one of only four women’s basketball programs averaging at least 10,000 fans per game this season, according to the NCAA’s records. For comparison, 36 men’s programs currently sit above that threshold.

Alexander’s comments brought upon a social media storm among Terp fans, who shared thoughts on the fan support, or lack thereof, this season.

This prompted a deeper dive into the numbers, and to see if the eighth-ranked team in the country’s fans are really not showing up. And if that was the case, who, or what, is to blame?

Well, let’s take a look at where the Terps rank in terms of announced attendance across the Big Ten.

Big Ten women’s basketball announced attendance

Team Home ATT. Home AVG/G Men:Women ATT.
Team Home ATT. Home AVG/G Men:Women ATT.
Iowa 133,087 10,237 1.16
Maryland 79,582 7,234 1.81
Indiana 80,067 6,159 2.56
Ohio State 68,735 5,727 2.06
Nebraska 62,454 5,204 2.40
Michigan 45,477 4,134 2.75
Purdue 48,496 4,041 3.68
Michigan State 51,563 3,683 3.68
Wisconsin 38,988 3,544 3.74
Illinois 42,449 3,265 4.58
Minnesota 45,183 3,227 2.79
Penn State 31,994 2,132 3.39
Rutgers 25,338 1,809 4.36
Northwestern 17,688 1,263 3.39

The data tells a clear cut story: Maryland women’s basketball does not have a unique attendance issue, but it is a familiar product of a disappointing disparity in the women’s game.

In fact, the program’s games are better-attended than most schools.

The No. 8 Terps have averaged the 12th-best attendance in the country over the past five seasons (2020-21 excluded), per official records from the NCAA, but a prolific program like Maryland would understandably be upset with over 10,000 empty seats most nights.

Austin Boroshok, who runs the popular TerpTalk Twitter account with over 1,250 followers, gave his thoughts on women’s basketball’s attendance conversation.

“It’s a systemic and complicated issue with no simple solutions. I think lackluster attendance is rooted in an (un)healthy mix of problems related to misogyny, marketing and market congestion,” he said.

Maryland is actually on pace for its highest-attended season since the 2008-2009 campaign, when an average of 8,889 fans watched the Terps play at the then-named Comcast Center.

The Terps have played three top 10 opponents this season: South Carolina, UConn and Ohio State. Those games were by far the largest attended games of the season, with an announced average showing of 10,995 fans.

Their season average, though, is 7,235 announced fans per game. That number drops slightly for conference games to 6,467, which still ranks second in the Big Ten.

Game-by-game announced attendance

Game Attendance
Game Attendance
South Carolina 9,244
Fordham 4,052
Davidson 8,454
Nebraska 4,321
Uconn 12,566
Minnesota 6,006
Michigan St 6,494
Rutgers  6,591
Michigan 5,602
Penn State 5,085
Ohio State 11,176
Maryland Athletics

Having a quarter-full XFINITY Center has admittedly affected some of the players at times.

“As a player, you can definitely feel the impact and kind of the intensity and energy that the crowd brings. So I mean, sometimes there is a little difference between crowd numbers and stuff like that. But for us, we kind of try to create our own energy from our bench and from our locker room to feed that energy to each other,” senior Faith Masonius said.

“It’s definitely a huge thing when people come to support, or you see alumni come back, or, you know, old coaches or family members,” she continued. “People supporting us definitely makes it that much more fun, but it definitely is like our sixth man. And, you know, just trying to get those people to come out to our games because every single game in the Big Ten for us is going to be a great game. So kind of hoping that people start to realize that once you come to our games, they’re fun. We’re gonna work hard, we’re gonna entertain you.”

A heavy critique with attendance this season has been a lackluster student section on many nights. While the men’s games see “The Wall” packed to the brim when they perform the signature “flag drop,” the large Maryland state flag is tied down to the section behind the basket during women’s games, with no students occupying the seats.

So, why don’t students show up for every game?

“I personally don’t think enough is being done from a marketing perspective, but I also don’t think that the athletic department can solve systemic, societal barriers limiting students’ exposure to and excitement about women’s basketball”, Boroshok added.

Maryland currently sits in third place in the conference with a 10-3 mark in Big Ten play.

Its most recent road game was Feb. 2 in a 92-80 loss to No. 6 Iowa. There were 10,671 in attendance for that primetime game on ESPN, and the Hawkeyes have already sold out their matchup on Feb. 26 against No. 4 Indiana, which should be celebrated across women’s basketball.

Maryland last had a sellout on Dec. 29, 2016 against UConn.

When that next sellout should happen again is yet to be known, but Frese asked for a great crowd against No. 10 Ohio State on Feb. 5.

“Another top-10 opponent and you know, only three games left that were guaranteed at home,” she said. “One of the last times to see the seniors and Diamond Miller in their careers. So if that doesn’t get you excited to come out, I don’t know what does.”

The announced attendance against Ohio State was 11,176. Immediately after Maryland’s 90-56 win, sophomore Shyanne Sellers made sure to thank the crowd.

“When we have a lot of fans, you can feel the energy vibrating through the whole gym. We always say they’re our best sixth man, so it was really important to have them today,” Sellers said.

The truth is that Maryland women’s basketball has some of the best attendance in the country, but also possesses the ability to change the way we see overall attendance in the sport.