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Posted on Sat, Mar 5, 2011 : 7:23 p.m.

A rare full house at Crisler Arena gives Michigan basketball a boost

By Rich Rezler


With a raucous crowd behind it, Michigan's bench erupts after the final seconds tick off the clock in their 70-63 win over Michigan State University during Saturday, March 5th's clash between the two teams at UM's Crisler Arena.

Lon Horwedel |

The lights dimmed and the electricity inside Crisler Arena surged.

As spotlights circled during pre-game introductions, they revealed something missing from a typical Michigan basketball game: There were few empty blue seats sprinkled among the lower bowl, and no expanses of yellow upstairs.

Michigan coach John Beilein noticed the atmosphere earlier, saying “I love the feeling I had when I walked onto the floor.”

Back in February, Hunter Lochmann, the new chief marketing officer for the Michigan athletic department, told Crain’s Detroit Business that one of his first tasks is to figure out why the seats aren’t always full at Crisler Arena and to fix the problem.


Comments on the story from Michigan fans were exactly what you might expect: “He has to get the data to figure out why they aren't selling? Two data points are all that matter when it comes to attendance, wins and losses.” And, “first and foremost the product on the floor must improve.”

Michigan has been winning - 8 of its last 11, in fact, after the 70-63 victory over the Spartans - and the product on the floor has improved as young players like Darius Morris, Tim Hardaway Jr., Evan Smotrycz and Jordan Morgan evolved into solid Big Ten players.

The reward was a lively sellout crowd Saturday inside the 13,751-seat Crisler Arena. Officially, it goes into the record books as the third sellout of the season - along with games against Purdue and Indiana - but the actual butts-in-seats number isn’t close.

The energy level ranked in a different stratosphere, and Michigan junior Zack Novak fed off it.

“The energy they were giving us was incredible. (Michigan State) is a physical team, so especially for me being a smaller guy banging in there and using a lot more energy … the crowd just willed me to keep on fighting,” said Novak, who said the atmosphere was as good as he could remember since a 2008 win over Duke.

Michigan fans were leaping - actually leaping - when Smotrycz’s breakaway layup gave the Wolverines a 33-19 lead with 2:23 left in the first half. That’s something that’s typically reserved for a touchdown play of 40 yards or more in Ann Arbor.

With 3:14 left to play, the Spartans rallying and Michigan hunkered down in a long defensive possession, Hardaway waved his arms to incite the crowd to get louder. The packed house responded. Both the call to action and the reaction were atypical in a building that’s averaged 10,639 relatively timid fans (and that’s tickets sold) over its 19-game home schedule.

Plus, Michigan students -- who you’d expect to be a little more rowdy -- were on spring break this week, which made for a slightly smaller Maize Rage student section.

The fans were into the game right until the end, waving a hearty goodbye to Michigan State’s Draymond Green and Delvon Roe as they took their seats after fouling out in the game’s last minutes.

There was a bit of irony involved there, since Green and Roe combined to score 31 points when the Spartans handed Michigan losses on their home court each of the past two seasons -- and did so in front of large and loud pockets of Michigan State fans.

“The last two years, we’ve seen a lot of green and I didn’t see a lot of green at all,” Michigan junior Stu Douglass said Saturday. “I saw a lot of yellow. Those pom-pons might have helped. It felt good. The energy was great and we fed off it.”

The game against Michigan State was the perfect confluence of factors for a big and boisterous crowd: A rivalry game with plenty at stake played on a Saturday afternoon.

A “win and they will come” philosophy probably doesn’t help Lochmann fulfill his goal of packing Crisler on a snowy Tuesday night in December.

But it certainly would help, right coach Beilein?

“I would hope so. I would hope so. But we have to do that, because we still have to get that crowd (to come) back,” Beilein said. “I don’t know what it was like when Rudy (Tomjanovich) played here or all the way through the championship team (1989) and the Fab Five. I have no idea what it was like.

"But I do know that was special out there for our kids.”

Rich Rezler covers sports for Contact him at



Mon, Mar 7, 2011 : 5:14 a.m.

As a season ticket holder since 1999, we have seen many games where fans left long before the end of the game, or walked out immediately following the game. Nobody wanted to leave last night, wanting to savor the win instead. It wasn't until after the alumni band played The Victors for the 3rd time that fans finally started to trickle out of their seats!!! What a fantastic end to the regular season!


Mon, Mar 7, 2011 : 12:42 a.m.

Writer Sweet-life has good points. I have seen the same sitting-with-hands-folded, not-very- expressive behavior by older fans at Michigan football games. Presuming that many of these stoic types are the livin' large Wolverines we have in the Michigan family, it's a good thing for our football team that we now can relegate them to their luxury booths in the Big House, so as to free up the "cheap seats" to the masses who are more likely to be more outwardly emotive during games. Regarding the support of our Small House team, many of the blue seats are rented by those blessed with the money and time in the ticket buying system to get the blue seats. However, a lot of those blue seats appear to be empty much of the time during basketball season, so the solution in part is to build luxury boxes up top in Crisler, and free up many of the blue seats to the same truly happy to be there masses. In the short term, maybe after half time, the ushers can encourage fans in the nose bleeds to sit in the blue seats.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

I agree with you, sweet_life. I have seen adults at the game reading the newspaper, making lists, reading magazines and writing letters!! I wonder why they even bother to come to the games. There is such a disconnection with these people. After moving here 20 years ago, coming from ACC country, I felt like I was at a tea party. I could not believe what I was witnessing. Things haven't changed much.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 7:38 p.m.

I am an adult basketball fan and I agree that students should have the seats closest to the court. But at the same time, you have to build more student interest in the team. Just a couple of years ago, they were only able to sell about 400 season tickets to students. I think they haven't been able to sell more than a couple thousand at the most since then. As for the adult fans sitting with folded arms, I have never been able to understand why anyone would go to a sporting event without expecting to get involved in the game. At the end of the Kansas game earlier this season, we were about to send the #1 team in the country to overtime and I was the only one in my section on my feet cheering. I get the impression that many adult Michigan fans must think they are just too cool to stand and cheer for their own team.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 6:56 p.m.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE give the students more seating! It would be nice to see the student section wrap around at both ends of the court like at Duke or Carolina. More students, more noise. The mostly older people who sit in the blue section just cross their arms and watch the game in silence. You MUST attend a Duke or Carolina game to see what a difference it makes when there are more students near the court.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 4:21 p.m.

Re: "MSU hockey, check. MSU basketball, check. This fall Hoke settles all family business!" --- That'll be sweet!! I'm all for it! Go Wolverines! Go Blue!


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 11:59 a.m.

Amen to that THS66. The universe will return to it's proper condition when Hoke completes the return of big brother. I said at the beginning of this season that John Beilein would be big ten coach of the year. At this point, I don't think anyone can argue with me.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 6:47 a.m.

MSU hockey, check. MSU basketball, check. This fall Hoke settles all family business!


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 4:43 a.m.

I've had season tickets for 20 years and have seen lot of exciting teams, and some really bad ones. But this season has been the most fun in a long, long time. For all the so-called fans who don't bother with UM basketball until they are winning, you don't know what you have been missing.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 3:08 a.m.

rich-----here's a note for hunter lochmann. don't allow the bigten to schedule our biggest rivals (osu / msu) when the students are on break. it is almost a guarantee that each season one of the two is scheduled during the university's spring break.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 1:33 a.m.

This team has earned a packed house fro every game. They are a lot of fun to watch, even in some of their losses. If I was anywhere near AA I would be there.