The move by Fairfield’s basketball teams to the new Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport has been a successful one for the Stags, who have already drawn more fans than all of last year at Alumni Hall.

Despite mediocre seasons for both the men’s and women’s teams, Fairfield has one of the top average attendance rates in the MAAC.

“It’s attributable to the fact that we’ve gone out to a broader community,” said Director of Athletics Eugene Doris. “The goal was to start to draw people in because of where the arena is located.”

“When the winning isn’t happening, the walk-up [rate] is a little more difficult to get,” Doris said. “We didn’t know what it was going to be like coming in. In general, I’m pleased. We were hoping to average around 2,500 [people].”

So far this season the Fairfield men rank second in the MAAC with an average attendance of 2,892. The men have drawn a total of 26,025 people in nine home games. The Lady Stags are first in the league with an average attendance of 2,130 and a total of 21,302 fans in ten games.

However, since seven games have been double-headers, where the total number of people that attended both games is recorded for each individual game, the women’s average and total attendance can be deceiving.

“I think there are 25 people [in the stands] when we come out of the locker room,” said women’s head coach Dianne Nolan. “But by halftime, we have a good crowd, and it’s a totally different atmosphere. The 5:30 start is just too early.”

However, improved plans for next year that include changing the women’s tip-off to six o’clock may increase attendance in Fairfield’s sophomore season at the arena.

“Because of the American Hockey League’s schedule, we didn’t get a lot of weekend dates at the arena this year,” Doris said. “But we have considerable more weekend opportunities next year than we did this year. Hopefully the MAAC when they put their schedule together will coordinate those dates.”

Fairfield drew above average crowds in its only two weekend games this year, including close to 5,000 fans on February 2 against Manhattan.

But problems between arena security and the “super-fan” contingent when one member was ejected from a game earlier this year have resulted in a lower student turnout recently.

“If our fans are being loud—as long as its not distasteful like its Mardi Gras or acting belligerently—I’m all for it,” said men’s head coach Tim O’Toole. “I wish those people with the painted faces will come back.”

The limited student interest can be attributed to the Stags lack of games against the region’s bigger named schools.

“We have an unbelievably tough time getting games. Schools don’t want to play us,” O’Toole said. “To give you an example: John Calipari at Memphis has 300,000 dollars in his budget to go out and buy games.”

“It’s really hard to get home games unless you’re buying them,” O’Toole said. “We don’t have the money to go out and get teams to come here.”

Many Division I programs around the country offer incentives to play against them. The University of Maine offers 10,000 dollars and two nights in a hotel to go up there and play them. Marshall University has a 35,000 dollar guarantee while the University of Illinois will pay 50,000 dollars to play them.

Despite Fairfield’s limited funds, the St. John’s men and Penn State’s women will be coming to the arena to play the Stags next year. O’Toole, a former assistant coach at Duke, is also planning to play the Blue Devils in each of the next three years, with Duke coming to the Arena at Harbor Yard in two years.

“It’s already in the works,” O’Toole said. “It’s just a matter of scheduling. It would be a three-year deal like we have with Michigan.”

Although Fairfield’s decision to play its games off-campus was initially met with skepticism, the Stags have so far silenced their critics and look to build on this first year at the arena in the upcoming seasons.

“I think we’re down to a comfortable situation where our figures are coming out to where we’re breaking even financially this year,” Doris said. “We’ve taken our season ticket base from 550 to somewhere around 1,100. With both teams having their best years ahead of them, we just need to build on this base.”

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