Before this summer, The Basketball Tournament had never generated more than 2,500 fans for a game.
Wichita shattered that attendance record four straight days last week, drawing 20,000 fans to Koch Arena to see the inaugural summer of TBT action with the Wichita State alumni team, the Aftershocks, drawing a record crowd of 7,184 fans on opening night.
Even with alumni teams from WSU, Kansas and Kansas State all eliminated, Sunday’s championship game that saw Marquette’s Golden Eagles defeat Sideline Cancer, 88-80, still sold 4,219 tickets.
It was the most successful TBT region in its six-year history and the partnership between Wichita and TBT appears to be just beginning.
“A total no-brainer to come back here,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “First of all, they have a great group of young players still playing in the prime of their pro careers around the world. This city has a unique fan base, one of the best in the country that loves not only Shocker basketball but loves basketball. I would be very, very surprised to not see Wichita back here hosting a TBT regional.”
TBT founder Jon Mugar got his in-person taste of Koch Arena on Thursday for the Aftershocks’ first game. Nearly seven months ago, Aftershocks coach Karon Bradley had pitched to him about coming to Wichita and promised a packed Koch Arena.
Mugar had heard similar pitches before and privately thought Bradley was over-estimating the reach.
Seeing with his own eyes on Thursday made him a believer.
“I love the atmosphere here so much,” Mugar said. “There’s no sky boxes here. There’s not over-commercialization like you see in typical arenas. I absolutely love the atmosphere.
“I’ve been texting friends who tuned in and were telling me how incredible it was and I told them I’m going to move to Wichita. It’s like finally, people understand me here.”
Jen Todd, a co-founder of TBT, was in Wichita for all four days and left just as impressed.
“I think this set an incredible modal for us, almost like a case study for what we can do in other regions,” Todd said. “They were all in from the beginning. That’s been a huge part of our ability to create what we did here this week. They really fulfilled everything they promised and even more. It was constructed very well and they had a lot of forward thinking to be able to pull it off like this.”
The four days of ticket sales generated a $96,396 purse (25% of ticket sales) for the winner of the regional, compared to the next closest TBT site in Syracuse that generated less than a third ($30,903) of Wichita.
That makes hosting a TBT regional in Wichita lucrative for WSU, but senior associate athletic director for facilities and operations Brad Pittman said it is worth doing again due to the sheer excitement in generated in the community.
“Any time you do something new to this magnitude there are going to be challenges because you don’t know what you’re getting into,” Pittman said. “But at the same time, we do basketball for a living. We just went back to the playbook of how we do our home games and dusted that off. There were some wrinkles, some things we didn’t expect and weren’t prepared for.
“But overall it was a great event I think anytime you can create that buzz is a great thing. We learned a lot that we can apply to next year.”
Not only does it make sense for WSU and TBT to come back each summer for regional play, but the majority of the members of the Aftershocks expressed interest in continuing to play in the summer tournament.
Since all three parties have expressed interest in continuing, a long-time partnership with TBT seems likely.
“It’s a definitely for me,” Shaquille Morris said. “You look at the fans breaking attendance records, hopefully the TBT would love to keep coming back to Wichita. I think there’s no better place for a regional to start and end than here. I believe we can come back and be better and bring more experience to it next year.”