The 2019-20 season was a major year in attendance for the Michigan women’s basketball team.
They started the season with 4,008 attendees at the Crisler Center against Notre Dame on Nov. 13, a bout Michigan lost, 76-72. The Wolverines then dominated Penn State, 82-48, with 5,012 attendees a month later. But more was to come for Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico and her squad, defeating Michigan State 89-69 before a crowd of 11,068 in attendance later in the season.
Attendance has been on an upward trajectory ever since Barnes Arico took over in 2011. In her first season, the average attendance was a humble 1,773. Last season, her eighth, that number was nearly doubled with 3,353 Michigan fans on average packing Crisler to watch her team play.
“Our season ticket holders, our attendance, our friends and family, the numbers in the stands have improved every single year,” Barnes Arico said on Nov. 25 following Michigan’s win over Central Michigan, its first game of the season. “We love to have our fans in the arena, but we know that’s not possible right now, and to still have the ability to play is what is really important.”
Barnes Arico has made an effort since her arrival to increase fan engagement. Chalk talks were initiated where fans had the opportunity to speak with the team. Starting at around 30 fans, the number has since risen to 100.
Dedicated season ticket holders and lifelong fans no longer have the opportunity to watch games in person this year. The players’ families have also had limited opportunities to see their loved ones play in person. Junior forward Naz Hillmon’s mother, NaSheema, has only seen her daughter play three times this season.
“(NaSheema) doesn’t miss a game,” Barnes Arico said. “So this was killing her. I said if I probably looked out in the parking lot, she might be sitting in her car in the parking lot. Just to be close to the arena, but she’s not the only one.”
Given the Wolverines’ success this season — 10-1 overall and 6-0 at home — it’s likely that fans would’ve shown up in droves, significantly raising the average fan attendance from past years.
Barnes Arico’s teams boast the only two sold out games in Michigan women’s basketball history, both against Michigan State in 2017 and 2019. A sold-out arena in 2021 sounds like a fantasy at this point. Instead fans participated in virtual meet and greets and families watched pregame zoom warmups.
“There are so many people that have supported us through the years that obviously it hurts, that they’re not here, but we’re doing it for them,” Barnes Arico said. “When we talked about that today, we’re doing it for the block ‘M.’ It’s so much greater than just each individual player.”
If Michigan is playing for the fans, it’s done so valiantly as shown by their record and 24-point average winning scoring margin. If the Wolverines continue on such a trend, it’s only a matter of time before they tack on a few more sellouts when fans return to Crisler.