Kevin Stallings’ second year at Pitt was never expected to be a success, but even with a low bar firmly in place before the start of the season, the coach managed to steer the men’s basketball program well short of expectations, prompting a precipitous drop in attendance that shattered the previous record-low season average for the Petersen Events Center.
In fact, the Panthers could not muster even half the fans they did last season on a per-game basis, as their average attendance for the 2017-18 campaign was just 4,117, down from 8,327 in the 2016-17 season. Last year’s average was a record low for the Pete at the time, but Pitt had yet to reach uncharted territory, as even Jamie Dixon’s 2011-12 team averaged 8,801.
This year’s attendance figures are decidedly more troubling, though, as Pitt saw its average turnout drop to its lowest point since the 1981-82 season, when the Panthers drew just 3,157 fans per game to a less spacious Fitzgerald Field House, according to NCAA records.
Pitt’s ticket office woes can be traced back to last season, when attendance began to lag in the wake of the unpopular decision to hire Stallings. After a respectable nonconference start, the Panthers were knocked around in ACC play, going 4-14. Stallings then lost 11 players in the offseason and replaced them primarily with JUCO transfers and freshmen.
The confidence of the fanbase was clearly shaken by the developments of the offseason, and the issue was exacerbated when the team went 1-4 in its first five games — Pitt’s worst five-game start since 1996. Although the Panthers were able to right the ship and win seven of their next eight, they averaged just 3,324 attendees over nine nonconference contests at home.
The low turnout persisted as Pitt worked through its conference slate. There were a few spikes in attendance when high-profile opponents like Duke and Syracuse visited, but by the end of the season, even a matchup with Virginia, the No. 1 team in the country, saw just 6,534 of the Pete’s 12,508 seats filled, placing the crowd at 52 percent of capacity.
Of course, the slumping support of the Pitt fanbase this season was not unwarranted, as the on-court product was genuinely awful.
The Panthers failed to keep most of their ACC contests close, losing six of their nine home games by 14 points or more, with the Virginia matchup being a prime example. In that game, Pitt scored a season-low seven points in the first half before ultimately falling 66-37.
Pitt’s inability to compete against ACC opponents saw the team go an unprecedented 0-18 in conference, and its overall record stands at 8-23 with the ACC tournament still on the horizon. Barring an uncharacteristically strong tournament showing from the Panthers, who rank 348th out of 351 teams in points per game, this will go down as the team’s worst finish since 1977.
As for Stallings, he now finds himself on the hot seat after going 4-32 in conference over a two-season span, and the dramatic drop in attendance could see him heading out the door.
Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke said in a recent interview that she considers attendance “an important element” in her decision on the coach’s future. She added that a decision on Stallings will be made after Pitt finishes its run in the ACC tournament, which gets underway March 6 and concludes on March 10.