MEAC leaders struggling to draw fans, despite success

Norfolk State has been one of the most consistent teams in the MEAC over the last couple of years, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the team’s attendance numbers.

NSU  (15-9, 8-1) is averaging just 1,670 fans per game so far, according to the Virginian-Pilot. But take away last week’s game against rival Hampton, which pulled in nearly 5,000 and the number is a lot lower. So far, six times the team has drawn under 1,400 fans.

NSU isn’t the only team that’s had trouble drawing a crowd to its games. Even NC Central, which appears headed towards its third-straight 20 win season, drew less than 2,000 fans per game last year. And

But it isn’t like Norfolk isn’t trying.

In addition to the $5,000 per year NSU spends to have a basketball ad wrapped on a city bus, the grassroots efforts help. But nothing tops natural rivalries, like the ones the school enjoyed before leaving the CIAA for Division I in 1997.

Unlike the CIAA, which features two schools in Virginia and eight in North Carolina, the MEAC spreads geographically from Baltimore to Daytona Beach, Fla. Plenty of NSU fans might have a cousin who attended a CIAA team like Virginia State, Miller said, but the odds that a relative went to a MEAC school like Florida A& M are pretty slim.

Rock bottom so far has been a game against UVa-Wise, where just 395 fans came into Echols Hall. Wise is a Division II college…which brings into question why NSU would schedule a Division II college other than a CIAA school?

Norfolk State hasn’t been in the CIAA since 1996, but you’d have a hard time convincing most people that NSU against an old rival like Virginia State, Virginia Union or nearby Elizabeth City State, would draw less than four hundred people.

Despite the struggles at the top, MEAC attendance overall hit a record high in 2014. Still, for coaches like NSU’s Robert Jones, its frustrating to play well in front of so few fans. 

“We’re a good program that people should come check out at least once,” he said. “I mean, if you don’t like it,then… But at least come. I think if you do come once, you will like it.”



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