Building a base: Michigan women's coach Kim Barnes Arico committed to growing program's fan support
When Kim Barnes Arico was announced as the new Michigan women’s basketball coach earlier this spring, the first order of business she outlined was pretty simple.
Maintain and advance.
The Wolverines were an NCAA Tournament team last season and return several core players from that group, meaning -- in that area, anyway -- things aren’t broke, so they don’t need to be fixed.
The second goal, however, might be a bit trickier. Barnes Arico wants to build on Michigan’s recent on-court success, but she also wants people in the stands to see it happen.
“One of my biggest priorities right now is to meet as many people as I can, and to get people excited about our women’s basketball program,” Barnes Arico told AnnArbor.com recently. “I want this to be something that the people in Ann Arbor, and the people in Michigan, want to be a part of.”
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Michigan’s first NCAA Tournament season in 11 years didn’t exactly net large crowds in the Crisler Center last winter.
In 14 home games, Michigan brought in just 24,920 people. That's an average of 1,780 per game in an arena that seats more than 12,000 fans.
The Wolverines’ home attendance was third-worst in the Big Ten and a considerable margin behind league-leading Michigan State, which had an average attendance of 7,505 at the Breslin Center last season.
The task of building a larger fan base isn’t something that’ll happen overnight, Barnes Arico admits.
And, of course, consistent winning seasons will help the matter. But there are other areas the first-year coach says she’ll focus on to keep the turnstiles moving next season and beyond.
“I want to get people to know my face, to make a connection,” she said. "If you have a relationship, maybe they’ll come out and be in the stands and join our program. I think that’s really something that I would like to do and I want to get out there as much as possible.”
She’s taken the time to learn as much about the Ann Arbor area as possible (and adopted Angelo’s as one of her favorite breakfast spots). And so far, she’s impressed.
“Whether you come as a student, or a little kid or to work here, people stay here,” she said. “And that says a lot about the university and the community. And that really shows me that this is a place I want to work and a place where I want to raise my family.”
As far as immediate action goes, Michigan will attempt to improve the atmosphere for women’s basketball games next season by installing a $500,000 curtain that covers the upper bowl of the Crisler Center.
Michigan hopes the curtain, an idea Barnes Arico said she’s excited about, will create a more intimate setting for fans in the lower half of the arena -- and perhaps bring a bit more noise, as well.
Creating a consistent buzz around a program that’s never really had one is tough.
Barnes Arico knows that, but she also looks forward to the challenge.
“I think it’s really important for myself, my staff and my players to open our doors and be involved with the community,” she says. “High school coaches, young kids, the senior community -- we want to try a little bit of everything to make a connection with people.
“People want to be a part of something special, and that includes winning. If we continue to win and move forward, people will want to be on board with that.”
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