When Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton day-dreamed about a basketball game at Intrust Bank Arena, the images flowed similar to Saturday’s scene.
The Shockers packed the downtown arena with an announced sellout of 15,004 fans. Bars and restaurants filled with Shocker fans wearing black and yellow, driving Shocker cars with Shocker flags, and finding safe and convenient parking nearby. WSU played an opponent with a recognizable name and won.
Other than a country-music concert at halftime, what more could people want?
“With the right opponent, it is exactly what I thought would occur with this event,” Sexton said Saturday. “This is exactly what Wichita State University and Wichita State athletics ought to be doing in the spirit of partnering with our community.”
WSU’s experiment at Intrust Bank Arena completed its fifth season with Saturday’s 81-52 win over Saint Louis. WSU is 5-0 and attendance hit high points the past two years with 14,356 fans for a win over Tennessee last season and Saturday’s sellout. Coach Gregg Marshall is a fan of the game and uses the arena as a recruiting and scheduling tool.
The Shockers will play Utah on Dec. 12, 2015 in the arena. That home-and-home series and the one with Tennessee might not have occurred without the option of playing in Intrust Bank Arena, which opened in 2010.
“We’re scheduling to control our own destiny,” Sexton said. “It’s about how do we get quality teams, which build a brand, which prepares us. Most of them that have come … they have the same goals we do. Some of them would prefer to play away from Charles Koch Arena.”
Driven by WSU’s success and the scarcity of tickets for games at Koch Arena, fans are responding. Sexton is happy that a fan who can’t afford or can’t get tickets to Koch Arena has an opportunity to attend one at Intrust Bank Arena. Season tickets at Koch Arena (capacity 10,506) sold out, for the first time since 2006-07, after fans renewed at a 99-percent rate.
Count Shockers junior guard Ron Baker on board for that reason.
“Coming down here to change things up is always good, it gets your adrenaline going, gets some excitement in you,” he said. “A lot of people are able to get tickets, because there are 5,000 more seats available. Lots of my family and friends are able to come.”
The first downtown game drew 14,112 fans in 2010 for a win over Tulsa. Attendance dropped to 9,619 for a 2012 game against Southern Mississippi. For the 2010 game, WSU attempted to place season-ticket holders in comparable seats in Intrust Bank Arena. When that approach didn’t go as smoothly as hoped, WSU removed the game from the season-ticket package and gave season-ticket holders first choice when tickets went on sale.
The 2011 and 2012 games involved a promoter, which produced different ticket prices. For the 2011 game against UAB, tickets cost $17, $32, $47, $67 and $152. Tickets for Saturday’s game cost $12, $22, $27, $42, $57, $102 and $152. When a promoter is not involved, WSU rents the arena and receives ticket revenue like a home game, a final accounting of which will be available later, Sexton said.
For fans, the routine and success of the Shockers seems to repair complaints voiced by some in 2010.
On Saturday, Larry Boll dressed in black-and-yellow overalls, a Shocker hat and Shocker jacket, with Shocker party beads around his neck, while purchasing a beer. He is a season-ticket holder who said he attended all five of the downtown games.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a whole different atmosphere. This is a nice change.”
Shocker fans are protective of the charged-up atmosphere at Koch Arena and don’t want to lose that advantage. Intrust Bank Arena and the downtown scene is making a good impression for a once-a-year event against a marquee nonconference opponent.
“It’s awesome,” Steve Luna said. “It gets bigger and bigger every time. We’re getting almost 16,000 here and that’s pretty dang cool.”
Sexton agrees. He ate lunch at Larkspur before the game and enjoyed the Shocker atmosphere in Old Town and around the arena. He is also looking forward to a similar scene, full of visiting basketball fans, when Intrust Bank Arena plays host to NCAA Tournament games in 2018.
“It’s a great venue to highlight our program and bring in quality opponents,” he said. “This is playing out the way we would like and long-term we want to continue to find the right games to bring down here.”
WSU plays downtown
2014 — WSU 81, Saint Louis 52 (15,004 attendance)
2013 — WSU 70, Tennesssee 61 (14,356)
2012 — WSU 59, Southern Miss 51 (9,619)
2011 — WSU 68, UAB 46 (11,204)
2010 — WSU 82, Tulsa 79 (14,112)