KNOXVILLE – Tennessee put out a news release last week regarding its basketball teams and season ticket sales.
The update regarding the men’s team reflected the soaring arc of the program. The Lady Vols news, meanwhile, befit a team that’s undergone a coaching change since last season.
Differences notwithstanding, both programs already have surpassed the final season ticket sales of last season.
The commonality indicates that optimism sells, regardless of the root cause.
As of last Tuesday, the Vols had sold more than 13,600 season tickets, which was their highest total since the Bruce Pearl era in 2010-11. The total was higher than the capacity of nearly 300 Division I venues.
The Lady Vols season tickets, meanwhile, had been regressing, along with their status as one of the nation’s leaders in attendance. The drop-off corresponded with the team’s performance.
But with first-year coach Kellie Harper on board, they’ve surpassed last season’s sales as well with more than 5,700 sold. As a player, she was the point guard for three national championship teams, including the undefeated 1997-98 squad.
Many women’s basketball programs could only dream of such a season tickets figure. Likewise, ranking seventh nationally in home attendance – as the Lady Vols did last season (136,471 for 17 games) - would be a cause for celebration rather than a concern. But the Lady Vols are accustomed to doing better both on the court and at the turnstiles and the standards remain high.
The Vols have recalibrating their ambitions, having won 57 games and an SEC Championship in the past two seasons. Their school-record home winning streak stands at 26. Their style of play has enhanced their popularity. So has the appeal of their star players. Grant Williams won back-to-back SEC player of the year honors and became a roving good will ambassador at other school sporting events
Tennessee’s total attendance of 342,615 for 18 games last season ranked third nationally. The pre-game average of 19,034 ranked fourth, as did its average pre-game increase from the previous season (2,824).
“This kind of incredible fan support is a big reason why we currently have the nation’s longest home winning streak,” UT men’s coach Rick Barnes said. “I’ve said it many times – Tennessee fans love basketball, and their energy gives us a home true homecourt advantage. It’s truly a difference maker.”
The Vols, who started preseason practice on Tuesday, will need that advantage this season with the team in transition. Williams and former teammates Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander having graduated to the NBA.
Meanwhile, any good will invested in the Lady Vols, tickets sales and otherwise, is dependent on better consistency and effort. The Lady Vols, who start preseason practice on Tuesday, often looked like they didn’t like each other as they trudged through last season, squeezing into one the final slots in the 64-team NCAA tournament field. The fans responded in kind with their diminished presence.
“Thompson-Boling Arena has always been a tough place to play and part of the reason is the amazing fans we have at Tennessee,” Harper said. “We’re working hard to hold up our end of the bargain, too. I want to put a team on the floor that gives great effort and plays a style of basketball that people will enjoy watching.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org