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OPINION: If you build it, they still won’t come

Kyle Gorcey

OPINION: If you build it, they still won’t come

If RMU struggles so much to pack 'The Chuck,' how can it ever expect to fill a 4,500 seat arena?

April 22, 2015

Dear Robert Morris,

For some strange reason, no matter where I go on this 230 acre campus, I keep hearing that this school needs a new on-campus arena to be considered a premier institution.

I constantly hear how great this will be for the university, how much revenue it can generate and how it’s a vital part of RMU’s strategic plan.

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That seems great and all. Really, it does. But I just have one simple question.

Judging by the fact that you can’t fill the 3,000 seat venue you have now, how do you ever expect to fill one that has a 4,500 seat capacity, like the proposed $50 million arena recently passed by the RMU Board of Trustees?

If you think it will be a breeze and can be done with regularity then go ahead, by all means, feel free to construct a multipurpose facility. If not, keep the Charles L. Sewall Center as the main home for RMU basketball and volleyball.

But before you begin building anything, you may want to take a few things into consideration.

Sure, ‘The Chuck’ – as it is affectionately known as – has its fair share of flaws, such as the stiff, wooden pullout bleachers. And let’s not forget about the building’s poor ventilation when filled to near capacity crowds, causing it to get extremely hot inside.

Though, you really don’t have to worry about that last one because it RARELY occurs.

For a men’s basketball program that has been so successful over the past five seasons, owning a .770 winning percentage (57-17) at home during that span, why has attendance has been so pitiful?

Consider the fact that during the 2012-13 season, the average attendance per game was 1,196, meaning that the Sewall Center was typically 39.9 percent filled to capacity.

But, if you remember correctly, that was the season that RMU played the University of Kentucky at home in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament.

So one would think there would be a dramatic spike in attendance the following year due to the novelty effect of hosting the all-time winningest college basketball program, right?

However, on average, only 290 additional people were in the stands the following year, and if you compare that number to the average attendance this past year, you’d find that it dropped to 1,105 for an NCAA Tournament bound team.

Besides, a 4,500 seat arena would be the largest in the Northeast Conference by nearly 1,000 seats, and judging by the fact that the league was dead last in attendance in the NCAA in 2014, there’s no way the NEC is ready for a facility that size.

If 1,105 people, RMU's average attendance during the 2014-15 season, were in the new 4,500 seat proposed arena, this is how sparse it would be.

If 1,105 people, RMU’s average attendance during the 2014-15 season, were in the new 4,500 seat proposed arena, this is how sparse it would be.

Neither is Robert Morris.

Although, maybe this new events center is all part of your master plan to eventually have the Colonials jump to a larger conference, especially since the projected capacity would be similar to that of the Horizon League or Atlantic 10.

And something like that really wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. Remember when Quinnipiac and Monmouth were in the NEC?

Both schools opened similar multipurpose arenas in 2007 and 2009, respectively, and had found a new home in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference a few years later.

RMU might be able to be competitive in a bigger league, but it would probably be wise to prove it can sustain a substantial fan base first.

Case in point.

Out of the 351 Division I basketball programs in the NCAA, only 95 other teams had lower attendance numbers in 2014 than RMU. That means the Colonials fell in the bottom 28 percent in terms of attendance.

To make matters worse, 25 Division II and three Division III teams had higher average attendances during that same year.

Three women's hockey and two women's basketball games had more fans in attendance than when RMU hosted Buffalo on Dec. 7.

Three women’s hockey and two women’s basketball games had more fans in attendance than when RMU hosted Buffalo on Dec. 7.

Let that sink in for a minute.

That mean’s three women’s hockey and two women’s basketball home games had more fans in attendance than the crowd of 433 vs. Buffalo, who let’s not forget, made the NCAA Tournament.

Not surprisingly, the highest attended game, with a crowd of 2,349, was on Jan. 16 against St. Francis Brooklyn.

Yet, that number was probably the result of offering $1 tickets, passing out free long sleeve athletic t-shirts and having the game broadcast on ESPNU.

Ask yourself this, Robert Morris. What’s something you have that no one else in the region has?

College football? Nope, there’s plenty of that in Western Pennsylvania.

College basketball? Negative. There’s two other Division I programs in the area. And sorry, hate to break it to you, but in terms of notoriety, the pecking order will always be Pitt, Duquesne and then RMU, no matter how successful the Colonials are.

That’s just the way it was, is and always will be.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the numbers.

However if your answer was college hockey, you’d be correct.

So, you should be promoting more of what you have that no one else does, and the only way to do this is to bring hockey to campus.

If there’s one team that’s outgrown its facility, it’s men’s hockey, a program that had two capacity crowds this season packed inside the 84 Lumber Arena

Putting them in a larger venue will inevitably build the team’s brand in a traditionally strong hockey market and can help draw large opponents to play RMU.

To me, including hockey is the only rational way to go about this.

Now don’t get me wrong, a new arena would be great for hosting convocation, concerts and tradeshows, as well as enticing prospective students to make Moon Twp. their home for four years.

And I don’t want to see the university break the fire code during the undergraduate commencement ceremony as much as the next guy; though, who knows if commencement would even be held in the new arena.

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In a phone interview with RMU Sentry Media, Jonathan Potts, RMU’s Senior Director of Public Relations, said that it would “likely be the new home of commencement.”

The key word there, folks, is likely. As of now, graduation will likely be held in this events center, which is scheduled to open in 2018, but not definitely.

So if there’s a chance future commencements may not be held there, why even build it?

As we all know, it will definitely be the home of Robert Morris basketball, even though, based on attendance numbers, the team hasn’t come close to outgrowing what it currently has.

With that being said, why not fundraise money to construct new dormitories or improve parking? If you can get alumni to donate to a new arena, certainly you can get them to donate towards upgraded housing or new educational buildings.

Last time I checked, academics are the reason why EVERYONE is here in the first place.

Oh, one more thing, shouldn’t a left turning lane on University Blvd. when coming onto campus from Coraopolis be more of a priority? I hear Moon Twp. doesn’t want to pay for that and neither does Robert Morris. But it might be a good idea to do something about that before accidents occur. Anyway, back to the new arena.

How ’bout this.

Simply prove to me that you can consistently pack ‘The Chuck’ 75 percent full (an average crowd of 2,250 per game) during the 2015-16 season and that this soon-to-be built arena trumps housing, parking and academics in terms of overall importance to the institution.

Heck, if you can do that, maybe I’ll consider becoming a donor myself.

 

With hope,

nick signature 3

 

 

 

 

Think RMU will be able to fill this proposed new arena? Let us know why or why not in the comments section.

 

 

Editor’s note: Title courtesy of Jon Fisher.

 

 

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22 Comments

22 Responses to “OPINION: If you build it, they still won’t come”

  1. RMU Fan on April 22nd, 2015 12:24 pm

    What does the attendance have anything to do with it?! The Chuck is completely outdated and they won’t be able to get any good recruits because who the hell wants to play in the Chuck. They wanna play in a school with the best facilities. Last time I checked the basketball team brings in more revenue than any other team, specially when they make the NCAA tourney. I’ve been to the Island multiple times and that facility is in way better shape than the Chuck. There are maybe 2 or 3 games a year the Island is packed which is no where near the amount of basketball fans at games. Add in the amount of money they can make by hosting events in the arena. RMU doesn’t want to get that much bigger. So the housing argument doesn’t make sense. You can only get so big. This new arena would then create a Rec Center for students on campus. Solving two issues! The new arena would would attract more people to come to games.

  2. Just Some Guy on April 22nd, 2015 3:14 pm

    The mens hockey team at rmu has one of the higher percentage filled to capacity in the country. At right around 80% full average. Considering half of their home games occur while the student body is on break and their rink isnt on campus i would say there are more than “maybe 2 or 3 games a year at the island packed”. And the basketball team only averages 1,100 fans per game compared to the hockey teams 880… so your “no where near the amount of fans that come to basketball games” point its pretty mute. Especially comparing a team that is off campus to a team that is on campus. Also the hockey team was ranked in the top 25 all year and had one of the best winning percentages in the country. They also beat some big name schools, penn state for example, which would help fill their arena given one was built.

  3. Ashley D on April 22nd, 2015 12:42 pm

    I totally agree that we should work more on hockey. I am a freshman and a hockey manager for the ACHA D1 team. I attend almost every home game no matter which of the three teams is playing.
    There were NCA D1 games in which the rink was packed and people were standing at the top of the seating, filling the entire walkway. That is a fire hazard, especially considering that there are a decent number of fans that are physically disabled, especially if you count those just relying on a case.
    Also, the club teams often hold games shortly after the NCA team plays, so they are stuck in the Olympic Rink. Now club teams may not have the fan base that the NCA team does, but fans are left standing the entire game because the seating does not meet the needs of the spectators.
    If we had a larger rink for our NCA team, our club teams could play on the Lumber Rink ice, allowing the entire fan base a place to sit. It would also be safer for everyone involved if this were the case.

  4. Ed Rendell on April 22nd, 2015 12:51 pm

    Student reaction to the new arena is positive because it’s a great idea. The only reason people were more hesitant about it once they knew the price is because they figured that they would be paying for it. Every penny spent on the arena will be money raised through fundraising campaigns. It will cost nothing for the students. Everybody wins in this situation from the students to the people that donate. And parking isn’t an issue; people’s willingness to walk more than 10 feet to class is the issue.

  5. Anonymous on April 23rd, 2015 6:32 am

    Student reaction is positive? What students are you talking to?

  6. Professor W on April 22nd, 2015 2:34 pm

    WE ARE DESPERATE FOR CLASSROOM SPACE.

  7. Brian Cottington on April 22nd, 2015 3:00 pm

    The logic behind building this arena is one that unfortunately is used as justification for many “pet projects” designed to do one thing and one thing only; act as admission bait. 50 million dollars for an empty building is a waste. But it makes a good picture on a recruitment brochure. 50 Million Dollars could go to many more worthy things such as housing, as I have heard that housing is tight at Robert Morris in recent years. 50 million dollars could go toward the academic programs by paying your adjunct professors more money or even hiring full time professors. If you read the news, adjunct professors who provide the bulk of instruction at universities are continually under paid for their time and are forced to either work 2 or 3 jobs or end up on food stamps. 50 million dollars could easily go to ensuring that your faculty are paid well enough to give you the skills and knowledge necessary to compete when you graduate. But no, an empty building is more of a priority and worthy of your tuition dollars than your faculty or housing needs. RMU doesn’t need a 50 million dollar eye sore to drive students. What it needs are proper accommodations and well paid faculty and staff to deliver 5 star education to its students.

  8. Ian on January 17th, 2017 10:55 am

    Brian – I don’t think you’re understanding that no regularly budgeted university dollars will go toward the new building. It’ll be funded by a special fundraising campaign for that purpose. So it’s not like you’re taking away $50M for housing or furthering educational endeavors. It’s money people donate earmarked specifically for athletics and building the new arena. If people want to donate to the poor adjunct professor fund then maybe you can spearheard that initiative.

  9. Evan T on April 22nd, 2015 3:25 pm

    The new arena is a great new thing for the building of this program. (With an arena of this size, maybe we could convince Fordham or someone to leave the A10, who knows :). I personally think they should only build an arena of about 4,000 because they don’t need the extra 500 seats. It is sad that more people do not venture over to the chuck. For the team that plays there is far better than the building it is in. With this new arena, maybe RMU could steal away some of Duquense’s fans that just go to the game cause “it’s good basketball and who wants to pay 40$ or more for a good seat at the Pete”
    With this new arena, I expect the attendance to increase because of the nice facilities (and a good team, too). Saying that we should keep the Chuck is stupid because a new arena is way over due. If RMU (and fans) want the schools ncaa basketball stock to continue its upward climb, this is a key (huge) step for sure. While the A10 is a stretch (maybe someday tho) a jump to a bigger conference in the up coming years could be nice. The MAC would be a great move if RMU could get in there. Both of these new things would keep player’s and good coaches at RMU longer as well.

    Current starting five for up coming season with current roster: (comment if you agree or disagree 🙂
    PG: Kavon Stewart
    SG: matty mcconnell
    SF: rodney pryor
    PF: Tate
    C: Minnie

    Sixth man- Isaiah Still

    Go RMU!!

  10. Anonymous on September 18th, 2015 11:36 pm

    Isaiah still way better than matty

  11. Tony R on April 22nd, 2015 6:01 pm

    The new events center has nothing to do with attendance at all. The Sewall Center is completely outdated and we need a new arena. The basketball team is a great way to get the school more exposure and building a new facility helps make the team better by attracting better recruits which in turn helps us get more TV time and raises the schools profile. This article is ignoring all the actual reasons the arena is being built and it’s kind of laughable how off based this article is.

  12. Allison W on April 22nd, 2015 7:22 pm

    I think the people who write these articles need to do more research before throwing their two cents in on something they know little about. This is more than just putting up a new arena. You say in the article that you think the university should invest their money into more parking, housing and other improvements to the school but this will open up the opportunity for those things to happen in the future. This allows for the much needed renovation of the SEMS, which once the recreational gym is out of John Jay that will be converted into two floors of class rooms and the whole John Jay center will be renovated. The Sewell center will be renovated in the future and allow the recreational and intramural sports are large area to play games and practice. The new arena will allow for NIT and NCAA games to be hosted at our university which bring in more fans and alumni as well as students to come to games and it will make our school more desirable for future students and athletes. The new arena will be large enough to host events that are popular among students and alumni and it will be able to allow future graduation ceremonies to be held there. As you know with graduation students are given a limited amount of tickets, this will solve that problem. Obviously asking someone a question about what the arena can do will have answer that have ‘possibly’ and ‘likely.’ This new arena is being fully funded by grants and generous alumni so it will not cost a penny from the students and it will actually add more parking as an outcome. But when asked why not put more housing up, where would they put that housing? The campus is mostly hills and trees and it would cost more than what this new arena will cost to put in new housing. And that is something that would take years to raise funds because there is no grant the school could get for that. This article sounds one sided and pretentious, the articles produced by the sentry have gone far down hill are very one-sided and they sound ignorant.

  13. Brian Cottington on April 22nd, 2015 9:33 pm

    How is it pretentious to point out the facts that the current building simply isn’t occupied during games? Secondly, the top of this article reads “OPINION” which means that it is this particular journalist’s OPINION on the matter. An opinion is by its very nature designed to be “one-sided”. As I’m reading these comments, I have to ask a very honest question: What is the purpose of RMU? Is it to generate more TV coverage of our sports teams as one commenter noted. Or is it to just attract events and prospective students. One professor noted that the classroom space is limited. I find it funny that no one followed up on that. Isn’t the purpose of Robert Morris to educate young people with the skills they need to for their careers? Since when did TV markets and attracting this conference or this event become more important than the education of its students? I mean you all put yourself into massive amounts of debt for the promise of opportunity and you are more concerned not with the quality of your education, or that your professors are working poor, but with how bright and shiny of a building you can make to attract ESPN. It is a waste of resources and shows that priorities are completely backwards.

  14. Allison W on April 26th, 2015 12:40 pm

    Do you know that by putting this new arena up, John Jay will be all classrooms. Currently John Jay has the practice gym and nursing students in it leaving the school of SEMS with no space. So it will allow for more classrooms to be built. It will allow more students to come to this school because people will see us playing big teams on TV and want to come here for education and sports. And do you think that everyone at every other school asked at some point why we are putting more money to sports? Yes. But look at schools like Penn State, Temple, Duke. Those schools didn’t have the teams they do today and at one point had something similar to RMU and a small arena. They grew the team and built s bigger arena. They made a lot of profit in those sports. This isn’t a commuter school, or just a school of accounting and business anymore. This is a growing and changing university and it needs to do these things to do bigger things with housing and classrooms later.

  15. Brian Cottington on April 30th, 2015 3:02 pm

    See, your argument doesn’t hold water. You are saying that building this 50 million dollar building will suddenly bring more people to RMU. But RMU doesn’t have a problem with enrollment. In fact, RMU is doing far better than most universities in the area when it comes to enrollment. Hell, they had to buy out the holiday inn on university blvd. because of the increased enrollment. And let’s say that building this 50 million dollar monstrosity will bring in more students….where the hell are you going to house them? Are you going to setup beds on one half of the new basketball court in the building because you had the attitude of “if you build it they will come, but good luck finding a room to sleep in”? I have nothing against putting money towards the sports teams and I have nothing against renovating Sewall to bring it up to modern standards, putting in new seats costs a hell of a lot less than 50 million dollars. But my problem is with the priorities of the university falling away from what students actually need (housing, parking, well paid faculty) and what looks pretty on the cover of a admission brochure. There already is the stigma that universities in this country are putting education on the back burner for lucrative business in pet projects and college sports, the decision to build this empty building shows that RMU is not immune from that stigma.

  16. Evan T on May 6th, 2015 12:24 pm

    Just so you know
    This arena would be still way to small to hold NCAA Tourney games!! Not saying it will be tiny, but the University of Dayton arena was over 12,000 and that was for the First Four… Also….NIT games are held at the higher seeds home court (to get a decent attendance) until the semi finals which are held at MS Garden.

    The new arena is a “POSITIVE thing NOT a NEGATIVE thing btw. Plus, rich alumni and other donors are generously giving $$$ for this and is not coming from the University $.

  17. Anonymous on April 22nd, 2015 8:37 pm

    What about the other sports teams who are poorly funded and can barely pay for necessities? Not asking for much but where are the alumni when the other sports need things? I understand some sports raise more money than others, and i totally agree that they should have much much larger budgets? But, why should some other teams have to struggle to be able to do things that will help them become more successful?

    Just saying that if they can raise $50 million so easily, how about an extra 20 grand a year for the other sports?

  18. Connie Ruzich on April 23rd, 2015 10:18 am

    I commend the writer for inviting an exchange of views on the subject. While others may disagree, it’s important to discuss the future of RMU and the ways in which resources are being spent.

    In terms of pressing needs, I concur with the response that classroom space is desperately needed. While new buildings for SBUS, SCIS, and SNHS are completed or underway, between the three of them, less than 10 new classrooms have been created.

    A new classroom building would allow for changes that would significantly impact campus life: it would be possible to schedule more classes at times that are more convenient for students; it would allow for one or two hours a week during which no classes were offered so that community programming could be offered in the middle of the day (club meetings, speakers, student life planning, etc.), and we could have an updated auditorium for events and classes (Hopwood Hall may be more dated than even The Chuck!).

  19. David on April 23rd, 2015 11:53 am

    This article is spot on.
    A new stadium would be comparatively more empty than Sewall, and that might even discourage fans from attending.
    I’d love to see the financial statements claiming this would boost revenue.

    What if instead of a $50 Million stadium, what if we invested in our classrooms, or in faculty?
    A brand new stadium to sit empty would be a disservice to students.

  20. Evan T on May 6th, 2015 2:48 pm

    Having two local kids on the team next year (Minnie and McConnell) could help attendance and bring it up from last year. Plus, making the Tourney this year helps (definitely more than beating St. John’s two seasons ago). A good increase, a definitely reachable one, would be an average over 1,500 people per game. Which would be up 400 from this past years attendance.

    More people honestly should come to the games. From the community…(Only cost 10$!!) and from the school (faculty and students get in for free for crying out loud…)

    The new arena should get more students to come into the games and the faculty should encourage students to attend more games.
    If there is 4,000 students or more living on campus, then there should be at least 200 students at a game & more at “better” games ( especially for the success this program has had and hopefully will continue to have.)

  21. Anonymous on April 23rd, 2015 2:59 pm

    Why would they build a brand new arena if we can’t even keep players on our basketball team? over half the team quit this season and more plan on quitting and transferring to different schools. Our arena is not what needs to change….something else does.

  22. Joey on December 4th, 2016 11:17 am

    I think they should make their arena bigger. Why because it will bring more attention to Rmu and they might be able to play better teams.

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