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Posted on Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 11:51 a.m.

Building a base: Michigan women's coach Kim Barnes Arico committed to growing program's fan support

By Nick Baumgardner

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 recently. “I want this to be something that the people in Ann Arbor, and the people in Michigan, want to be a part of.”


Michigan's Carmen Reynolds shoots over two Northwestern defenders -- and in front of plenty of empty seats at the Crisler Center -- last season.

Angela J. Cesere |

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.”


New Michigan women's basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico.

Barnes Arico has already made her way through the banquet circuit throughout Michigan circles, stopping by the Ufer Club golf outing in May, as well as Michigan’s softball camp.

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.”

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 5:04 a.m.

The lack of information about the new coach in this and in a previous article about her struck me. There is no mention of her background and from where she is coming. You mentioned in both articles her interest in Ann Arbor and in settling here which would naturally lead to where she has been and what she has done. I had to look her up separately to get that information. What's up with the minimal information about a new coach in town? Reporting skills 101? Sorry to be critical but this seems quite basic.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.

Yes, ultimately, it comes down winning games to bring in lots of spectators but I disagree that it's "the only thing" that will generate more fan support. I like the multifacted approach-win games, get more media coverage, get out in the community, win games. I'll bet that if a coach/player goes to a school or community center, talks to folks--from little ones to the retirees, and gives a personal invite, more people would show up than if the personal invite didn't happen.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 11:48 a.m.

imho, that $500,000 (!) curtain is a monumental waste of money. The only thing that's going to generate more fan support is winning basketball games. Period. It's not community involvement or more media coverage. It's winning basketball games.


Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 9:32 p.m.

Spectator participation may improve if will provide more coverage of women's basketball and other women's sports as well. It is shameful the little attention provides for the Big Ten's perennial best softball team which plays at the Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex. does not even regularly list the schedule of upcoming home games for all U of M sports.


Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 8:33 p.m.

The tough thing about UM is that the football program dwarfs all other sports. Tennessee was able to create a lot of energy around woman's bball ,but woman's bball was the most successful program at that university. I know that fundamentals are the most important thing in basketball but a little pizzazz and a nail bitting big 10 championship would go along way to boost the program.


Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

It'd be great to see the coaches and players out in the community (in the schools, community centers such as Peace Neighborhood, etc.) I like the idea of making the arena seem more intimate with the smaller crowds but I'm not sure about the curtain either. I just have never seen one; maybe it'll do the trick. Thanks for the WBB update, Nick.

Ann Arbor Bargains

Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 5:26 p.m.

The women's games are fun and affordable for families, and I enjoy taking my nieces and nephews to see them play. I hope more students will start to attend, though!


Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 5:15 p.m.

"...a considerable margin behind league-leading Michigan State, which had an average attendance of 7,505 at the Breslin Center last season." Wow, did I miss Purdue leaving the conference? Because Purdue led the Big Ten in 2011-12 women's basketball attendance at 7,958--not MSU (

Macabre Sunset

Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 4:21 p.m.

After attending games the last three seasons, I think the curtain is a terrible idea. The PA system is already far too loud during women's games - look around and you see small children holding their ears. And, especially when attendance pushes 2,000, shutting off the gold seats near midcourt only ensures less-than-optimal views for much of the audience. I would also recommend training the ushers at Crisler. Last season, we ran into one so unpleasant that it spoiled our experience. Definitely "little man" syndrome there. Go to a game at Breslin. The atmosphere is much better. Don't just change things for the sake of change. It will take time to build a following. I'm glad this is a goal of Brandon's, but I see no sign that he understands what the job requires.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 10:54 p.m.

Breslin definitely has had a curtain in the past. A crowd of 2000 doesn't remotely push you into bad seats in the lower bowl. Only a handful of people ever went into the upper tier--mostly kids running around.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 2:03 a.m.

I have definitely seen it, at a UM vs. MSU basketball game, season before last. There are other advantages to closing the formerly gold upper bowl, in that they don't have to staff or clean up there. The volume of the PA can be adjusted, and maybe it won't echo so much. Although Crisler is more comfortable than Cliff Keen, it is the right size for the volleyball crowd and the team loves to play there. I don't forsee them moving unless the curtain idea really works.

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 12:48 a.m.

I've never seen it. Its lower bowl is larger than Crisler's, and could probably technically hold all the fans for many of the games. But they seem aware that packing people in uncomfortably and artificially would only detract from the experience. I hope Brandon reconsiders this curtain idea. I also think they should go back to playing volleyball matches at Crisler whenever the schedule allows it. Easier parking and fewer bad seats. At least the PA in the old swimming pool isn't set to that painful level, though. Sometimes I think women's sports at Michigan are still run by Phyllis Ocker, and designed specifically not to attract attention.


Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

Breslin has a curtain, too.