College Basketball: Curry’s stardom is recession-proof
DAVIDSON ó In these trying economic times, the Southern Conference has found a recession-proof formula: bring Davidson’s Stephen Curry to town.
The rock-star following of the nation’s top scorer and last season’s NCAA tournament darling has produced record crowds, sellouts streaks and even prompted one school to change venues to sell more tickets.
“It’s really been off the charts,” Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino said. “I think our athletic directors are probably going to take up a petition to send to Steph to convince him to stay another year.”
Davidson has sold out every game in its season-ticket package in its renovated 5,223-seat arena after having only one sellout last season. Fellow schools in the lower-tier league have seen attendance jump an average of 240 percent when they play the Wildcats.
The soft-spoken, sweet-shooting Curry is the draw. The junior guard, who is 30 points shy of becoming Davidson’s all-time leading scorer, has not announced if he’ll turn pro after this season.
“I stand up at every game at some point and look around ó do a 360-degree turn,” Davidson athletic director Jim Murphy said. “Everybody is cheering and clapping and enjoying themselves. It really is special.”
After coming within a missed 3-pointer of the Final Four last season, Davidson spent $750,000 to renovate Belk Arena, replacing bleacher seating with 1,200 chair-back seats. They were all sold in season-ticket packages, and a ticket hasn’t been available for a game since November.
On the road, the results are even more remarkable. Appalachian State drew a school-record 8,350 fans for Davidson and is averaging 1,885 for the rest of its home games. Take away the school-record 5,116 that watched the Davidson game at Samford and that school is averaging 717 fans.
UNC Greensboro, averaging 969 fans for home games at its own gym, moved the Davidson game to the spacious Greensboro Coliseum, and 11,687 watched Curry score 29 points in a blowout win.
Georgia Southern drew its largest crowd since 1995 and Wofford more than tripled its average crowd in its first sellout since 2001 when Curry scored 39 points in a Davidson victory.
“The energy on campus in the last 48 hours was a sight to behold,” Wofford coach Mike Young said after that game.
Curry and the Wildcats play their final regular-season road game Monday at Elon, which drew 678 fans for a game earlier this month. But individual tickets for the Davidson game sold out in 10 minutes, and the school plans to add temporary seating and a standing-room area to boost capacity to 1,710.
“It is kind of amazing that one person could have that big of an impact,” said Michael Jacobs, Elon’s director of ticket operations.” The only thing I wish is we had a bigger venue for that one game.”
Officials in Chattanooga, Tenn., are hoping to latch onto the Curry Effect at next week’s conference tournament, which Davidson must win to guarantee a return to the NCAA tournament.
A crowd of 9,234 fans ó nearly three times Chattanooga’s non-Davidson average ó watched Curry hit an 80-footer to beat the first-half buzzer and score 32 points in a 92-70 win over the Mocs last month.
“And as soon as he came out of the game with five minutes left, they stood up and left,” Murphy said.
While more than 300 lower-bowl ticket books for the tournament remain unsold, Chattanooga organizer Merrill Eckstein expects a large Curry-driven walk-up will offset any economy-related decline in sales.
“I think any drop in attendance by the casual fan making the decision, ‘Gosh I can’t afford this,’ is going to offset by the next guy who says, ‘I’ve got to see Stephen Curry,”‘ Eckstein said.
Curry’s magical performance in the NCAA tournament, 128 points in four games, also will fill the Southern Conference coffers. The league will receive an extra $4.5 million from the NCAA over the next six years as the payout for Davidson’s run to the Midwest Regional final. The money will be distributed to all 12 league schools.
“Obviously that couldn’t have come at a better time given the budgetary pressures that all our schools are feeling,” Iamarino said. “They know now for the next six years beginning in April, we’ll be sending them a sort of a rebate check.”
Curry’s fame has had some unanticipated consequences, too. Iamarino had to call a midseason league meeting to call for extra security after Curry was signing so many autographs after one road game that the Davidson bus was late leaving the arena.
“Curry is willing to do it, but we had to do something otherwise the bus would have been sitting there for two hours,” Iamarino said.
As for the baby-faced star behind the financial windfall, Curry just shrugs his shoulders as fans cram into gyms to catch a glimpse of him.
“It’s a different situation from my freshman year to my sophomore year to this year,” Curry acknowledged. “It’s a new challenge and we’re definitely not going to take it for granted. When you look back after it’s all over, it’s going to be one of those cool stories.”
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