SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As South Dakota State and University of South Dakota teams go, so does the attendance at the Summit League men’s and women’s basketball championship. Sometimes, the weather gets in the way.
The annual sports event has been in Sioux Falls since 2009.
Data from the NCAA and the Summit League lists Summit League regular season home attendance as well as the championship tournament attendance.
Attendance at the men’s championship tournament in 2019 was 22,644, down about 14,000 from 2018’s attendance of 36,412.
The women’s tournament drew more fans than the men’s. Attendance for the women’s games was 24,193.
This year’s tournament includes the men’s and women’s teams from SDSU, USD and the two North Dakota teams.
Historically, when USD and SDSU men and women are in the tournament and advance to at least the semifinals, attendance is very high. Attendance follows as far as those teams advance and can fall off when the teams are eliminated.
For example, in 2017, the total attendance for the women’s bracket was 21,092, down from 2016 and it would be less than in 2018 and 2019. In 2017, Western Illinois beat Indiana University-Purdue University Indiana (IUPI) in the final game, which drew 2,005 fans.
SDSU was eliminated in the semifinals and USD was eliminated in the opening round. The University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) was also in the semifinal round and that round drew 6,371 fans.
The total attendance for 2019 was 46,837. In four prior years, total attendance was 60,000 or higher with the highest in 2016 at 65,533 fans.
One big reason for the 2019 attendance drop was likely weather.
Ryan Powell, the assistant commissioner for communications for the Summit League said the tournament sold more tickets than attendance indicates because a winter storm kept people away on the opening weekend. The attendance recorded for 2019 was scanned tickets to indicate attendance, Powell said.
But the 2019 semifinals of the men’s tournament consisted of mostly of teams that historically don’t draw as well during the regular season as SDSU and USD.
North Dakota State University beat the University of Omaha 73-63 in the final on March 12.
NDSU drew 29,003 fans to home games in 2019, which was down from 38,601 in 2018. UNO drew 26,788 home fans. The final four also included Western Illinois and Purdue Fort Wayne.
Western Illinois drew 6,061 home fans in 2019. Purdue Fort Wayne drew 21,906. Western Illinois plays in Western Hall with a capacity of 4,421, according to the university’s website.
Purdue Fort Wayne plays in Gates Sports Center with a capacity of 1,800, according to the university’s website.
SDSU had 40,718 and USD had 30,869.
A wild card of sorts is NDSU. The men’s team drew 49,824 fans to 13 home games in 2017, 43,008 to games in 2014 and 44,184 to games in 2012. But the number decreased to 38,601 in 2018 and 29,003 last year. Still, attendance took similar dips early in 2013 and 2016 to bounce back to more than 40,000 fans in the next years.
Travel distance and fan base, based on home attendance figures, also likely had an impact on the 2019 championship tournament attendance.
The women’s final four included SDSU, USD and the University of North Dakota and Oral Roberts University.
Western Illinois is in Macomb, Illinois, about 496 miles from Sioux Falls. Purdue Fort Wayne is about 734 miles from Sioux Falls
In the women’s bracket, SDSU beat USD 83-71 in the championship game.
Both teams are roughly an hour from Sioux Falls and have large fan bases. UND is about 318 miles from Sioux Falls while ORU is about 562 miles from Sioux Falls.
The 2019 attendance for the women’s championship was about 3,000 fans fewer than in 2018 when the championship drew 27,054 fans.
The attendance at the basketball championship tournament has grown since its 2009 move to Sioux Falls.
The Sioux Falls Arena was the tournament site from 2009 to 2014. The tournament moved to the new Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in 2015. Before 2009, the tournament site traveled to various locations including Tulsa, Oklahoma and Kansas City, Missouri.
The 2009 move to Sioux Falls corresponds with the addition of the two South Dakota and two North Dakota universities that joined the league over a period of years.
The move to Sioux Falls made an immediate impact. The 2009 tournament shattered attendance records, according to the Summit League.
Attendance in 2009 was 17,682 for the men’s tournament with an average per game attendance of 4,421. Total attendance for the 2009 tournament reached 34,681 while the women’s sessions shattered the previous record and totaled 16,999, the league said.
NDSU beat Oakland in the 2009 men’s championship. SDSU won the women’s championship.
Attendance for the men’s championship tournament grew by about 15,000 from 20,832 in 2014 to 35,612 in 2015. The attendance stayed at around 36,000 to 38,000 until 2019.
The women’s bracket grew most from 2014 when attendance was 16,472 to 24,395 in 2015 to its highest attendance to date of 28,872 in 2016, according to the Summit League. The tournament drew 21,158 fans in 2013 when SDSU won another tournament title with a 56-53 victory over the University of South Dakota.
Denver, Purdue Fort Wayne, NDSU and SDSU were in the men’s final four in 2014. In 2015, the tournament also included NDSU and SDSU, again a year in which attendance topped 35,000.
The 2017 tournament included a quarterfinal game between USD and SDSU. SDSU went on to win the tournament by two points over UNO. Men’s tournament attendance was 39,912 in 2017.
The 2017 men’s attendance was the highest attendance from 2009 to 2019.
The 2016 tournament drew the most fans of any year since 2005, according to the Summit League. The tournament drew a combined 65,533 fans, after drawing 60,007 in 2105, the first year the tournament moved into the PREMIER Center.
The women reached the highest attendance in 2016 with 28,872 fans. It was another USD vs. SDSU match up in the championship that year. The men’s tournament drew 36,661 fans that year.
SDSU, USD, NDSU and Denver were in the men’s final four in 2018. SDSU defeated USD in the championship game. Men’s tournament attendance was 36,412 in 2018.
While attendance has grown since 2009, the tournament isn’t selling out for each game at the PREMIER Center. The center seats 12,000 for basketball.
Data from the Summit League shows that attendance at two of the top attended games reached just over 10,000 and just over 11,114 fans The men’s championship game drew 11,114 in 2018 and 10,188 in 2016.
The women’s championship drew 8,704 fans in 2018, the most in a championship game since 2009.
Sioux Falls is also the host site for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The NSIC includes Augustana of Sioux Falls, the University of Sioux Falls and Northern State University in Aberdeen as its South Dakota schools. NSU and Augustana consistently rank in the top 20 in home attendance for men’s and women’s basketball.
The NCAA had completed figures for men’s attendance but not women’s. The 14 men’s teams in the NSIC drew 240,443 fans in 229 home games in 2019. The Summit League’s nine men’s teams drew 246,414 fans in 127 home games.
The Summit League ranked 26th in Division I conference attendance rankings for men’s basketball. The NSIC ranked second in Division II conferences. The Summit League finished below the Horizon Conference, the Big Sky, Big West but above conferences such as America East and the Ivy League.
The Horizon Conference includes former Summit League member IUPUI or Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, Indiana, and will be Purdue Fort Wayne’s new conference in 2020-2021.