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Courtside Conversations with Paul Johnson
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 06/22/2004
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Paul Johnson is employed by the UA as the women's basketball play-by-play announcer. He has 20 years of sports broadcasting experience, including the last six years as the voice of Arizona women's basketball. Every Wildcat women's basketball game this year will be broadcast live on KJLL 1330 AM, with Paul calling all the action.

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March 20, 2004
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There are many questions that student athletes should be asking. They should be wondering what their grades will be, where they are going to live, whom they will date, and when they will finally get some sleep! However, the question that the UA women's basketball players shouldn't need to ask is, "Where are our fans?" This is a question that should be asked by others, although answers may be hard to come by.

The Arizona women's basketball team has done what it needs to do to draw people to McKale Center. The Cats have won 20 of their last 23 games at home and have posted a 42-8 mark over the past three seasons. So, one would conclude that attendance should be rising and interest should be at an all-time high, right? Wrong! In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Despite going 15-2 on the home hardwood last season, attendance fell to an average of just 2,246 per game. Compare that total to Oregon's total of 5,150 per game that led the Pac-10. The Ducks also drew the largest home crowd of the season at 7, 602 while the Wildcats managed just 4,453 for a game against arch-rival Arizona State. To rub salt into the wound, the Sun Devils drew a huge crowd of 16,782 for a game against Tennessee at Bank One Ballpark and finished with a larger average attendance than Arizona.

Women's basketball has also gained popularity around the country. New Mexico averaged more than 10,000 per game last season and drew over 18,000 for it WNIT championship game. Connecticut and Tennessee regularly average over 10,000 people per game, and most top-25 teams draw an average of 5,000 to 10,000 fans to their home arenas.

So, why has Arizona lagged behind? No, the team has not challenged for a national title, but the Cats have been to the postseason in each of their past six seasons, including a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Joan Bonvicini is 60-29 in the Pac-10 over the past five seasons, and that should be good enough to get noticed. McKale Center is arguably the best venue in the conference, and ticket prices run as low as any team in the nation. Yes, men's basketball rules the roost, and football deserves plenty of attention. However, the Wildcat women can honestly ask why more people don't attend their games. Whether the answer to that question lies with fan apathy, lack of marketing or just lack of interest in women's sports is open to interpretation. I do know one thing, 725 fans for a pre-season game last Monday is not acceptable.

We will find out more in the next two weeks. Pepperdine is an NIT team and should draw close to 3,000 for Arizona's home opener on November 11th. Ohio State, which comes in on the 18th, won the NIT last year and should also draw close to 3,000. Then, the visit of defending NCAA champion Notre Dame will be the real test. The Irish bring their national title to McKale on Saturday, November 24th. There are no other events that conflict with this game, and it will be a crime if 6,000 people don't show up.

If these games are a flop at the gate then UA women's basketball players may go back to asking the normal questions of a college student. The rest of us can continue to scratch our heads and wonder, "Where are the fans?"

See you on the radio!
Paul Johnson


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