Kaitlyn Fulmore, Photo Editor
After a season of near-full capacity crowds, VCU men’s basketball sold out its first game of the 2021-2022 season on Feb. 18 when playing against the University of Richmond Spiders.
The Stuart C. Siegel Center, the arena where VCU hosts home basketball and volleyball games, returned to full capacity in fall 2021 after having an attendance limit the previous season due to COVID-19. The stadium’s prior 10-year sellout streak officially ended at the VCU opener against Saint Peter’s on Nov. 9, 2021, according to VCU Athletics.
Kevin Dwan, senior associate athletics director for external relations, said VCU Athletics had anticipated the game being sold out.
“The game definitely does kind of sell itself, you know, it’s a really important one to our fans obviously,” Dwan said. “I think it’s just people respond to that one. It’s a game on the schedule that they look for.”
Prior to the Richmond game, the Siegel Center was unable to sell out all season. Dwan said one explanation for this season’s attendance decrease is due to the 250-person limit that prevented many fans from attending during the 2020-2021 season.
“People find other ways to spend their time and spend their money and resources,” Dwan said.
The average attendance of all home games this season has been approximately 7,000 seats sold, out of the 7,637 seats available. The lowest attendance recorded was 86% capacity, or 6,621 seats sold, when VCU played Jacksonville State on Dec. 8, 2021.
Dwan also credits COVID-19 to the lack of fans coming out to the games. Dwan said fans may not be comfortable in the large crowded setting, or might prefer VCU to go further with restrictions.
“And then there’s another group of people who just aren’t interested in needing to wear a mask,” Dwan said. “They have that right as well.”
Fans must wear masks at all times to attend games, except while actively eating or drinking. Entrance to games does not require proof of vaccination status, according to VCU Athletics.
Stephen Blue, an alumnus who has continued to go to games after graduating from VCU, said the energy of the Siegel Center has lessened due to COVID-19.
“The masks kill the atmosphere,” Blue said. “I understand the necessity, but by next year it needs to go away.”
Fans have mixed feelings about the COVID-19 policies at the Siegel Center. VCU fan and employee Molly Dellinger-Wray said she felt “terrific” when VCU announced that Siegel Center would return to full capacity.
“I wish that there had been a vaccination requirement like some other schools have,” Dellinger-Wray said. “But you know everything that we do now is a risk. And this is worth the risk to me.”
VCU’s COVID-19 safety guidelines are similar to the policies of other Virginia universities, along with other schools in the Atlantic-10 conference, according to Dwan. Almost all Division I colleges in Virginia require masks at indoor games.
VCU Athletics had a strong advertising push for the final games of the season due to COVID-19 impacting attendance and ticket sales, according to Dwan.
“We’re certainly trying to advertise more than we needed to in the past,” Dwan said. “We’re really trying to get the message out to the community.”
Students have outpaced the attendance projections set by VCU Athletics, according to Dwan.
Jordan James, vice president of Rowdy Rams, VCU’s official student section, said students are showing up in order to get a taste of college events.
“I think that our last couple of games have really shown that even though this pandemic has been hard on us, we can still have fun with masks on,” James said. “We’re still making the most of it and having a great time.”
The University of Richmond game demonstrated how energetic the VCU crowd could get, even with COVID-19, James said.
“It was really electric, you can just tell that everyone was really excited,” James said. “I would say that it was pretty close to a pre-COVID[-19] game.”
Despite the risk of COVID-19 and different safety policies put in place, Ram fans continue to show up and support their team.
“I just feel like this is one of the best places to watch basketball in the nation,” Dellinger-Wray said. “And my seats will come out of my cold dead hands.”