The NCAA released the attendance figures for the 2015-16 basketball season. UNC finished ranked 4th nationally in attendance with an average of 18,326 per game for 16 home games. That number ranks as the fourth lowest since 2000 for UNC.
Here is how this season stacked up in that era.
If you are looking for trends one that sticks out is UNC has only topped 20K once since the 2009 title year. The dip to 17K in 2010 is not surprising given how that season went. The Marshall-Barnes-Henson-Zeller teams of 2011 and 2012 were a nice draw topping 19K in 2011 and cross the 20K barrier in 2012. Since then no season has drawn more than 19,582 which came in 2014.
There are various factors that impact attendance numbers such as quality of opponents at home and scheduling and how people watch games(more on that later.) Those factors probably explain some of the ebb and flow as does how well the team is doing. That makes the 2016 number curious. UNC went into the season ranked #1 and one of the favorites to win the national title. This clearly didn't boost the attendance numbers with UNC finishing with a lower average than the Tar Heels pulled during the 2003 NIT season.
Is that a cause for concern? Does UNC have an attendance problem? The consistent ranking at 4th over the past six years and perennial presence in the top five would indicate that if there is an attendance issue it is across the whole sport. While UNC's numbers are certainly lower than one might expect for a Final Four contender, it doesn't seem to have cost the Tar Heels in the overall ranking. UNC drew less but apparently so did everyone else.
In fact college basketball has been bleeding home attendance for almost ten years now.
Only four seasons in the last ten have registered growth in the total college basketball home attendance. However since 2007 there has been a steady decline in average attendance even in seasons(2012, 2013) where the total number went up.
It has been clear for awhile that attending live athletic contests isn't as attractive as it once was even ten years ago. The advent of HDTV makes watching from home a more convenient and cheaper choice than attending the game. Even the way people follow sports teams is changing with "catching the game" live might not be as important as it was for previous generations.
As for UNC, there is little doubt Bubba Cunningham is paying close attention to these numbers. UNC has beend debating whether to renovate or replace the Dean Smith Center. The current attendance trends will certainly impact that project if and when UNC decides to pursue it.