William S. Paxton: Fairfield's competitive start should help bring in the fans
Updated 4:20 pm, Sunday, November 18, 2012
Wins and losses keep Pat Murphy up at night.
While Murphy, Fairfield's senior associate director of athletics for business and external affairs, has no direct role with the Stags on the floor, one of his jobs is to make sure fans come to see the basketball team play.
And a poor start to the season could make the Stags a tougher sell at Webster Bank Arena this winter.
Fortunately for the school, Fairfield is off to a 2-1 start in its non-league schedule and making some preseason publications look silly for tabbing the Stags to be in for rough roads.
"We have been pretty steady (with season-ticket holders)," Murphy said prior to the season opener over a week ago. "We have a big effort every year to go out and sell tickets, season tickets or flex plans. I think people out in the community think because we've lost so many people, this year's team could be a down year for us. I'm not sure that's the case. I think it always hurts you at our level -- the mid-major level -- when you are trying to build a program and you are trying to put people in the seats, then you are picked eighth in your conference.
"I'm not sure I buy into being picked eighth because at the end of the day, as long as I have been around, the MAAC has been a guard-driven league and we have very good guards. I think we will be better than where we are picked and I hope people come out and realize that."
Despite the publications placing Fairfield in the bottom third of the MAAC, the conference's coaches actually voted the Stags fourth in their preseason poll. They seem to agree with Murphy's views about the strength of senior guards Derek Needham, Desmond Wade and Colin Nickerson.
"I hope the people come out to the games to watch good basketball," Murphy said. "And the (people who run the WBA) have made a significant investment in the city of Bridgeport with that arena."
More InformationFan count Fairfield ranked third in home attendance in the MAAC last year at 2,239 per game, behind Siena (6,509) and Iona (2,476), but the Stags had 16 home games to Siena's 13 and Iona's 11. Overall, Siena drew 91,128 total fans and the Stags were second with 35,828. -- WILLIAM S. PAXTON
Even though all the new bells and whistles -- including a giant center-court scoreboard with two 30-foot by 16-foot high-definition screens along with two smaller 12x12 versions -- were not in place for the Stags' preseason game with the University of Bridgeport, they will be when Fairfield hosts its first regular-season and conference game on Dec. 7 against Canisius.
In May, Fairfield signed a five-year contract extension with the WBA to continue playing men's home basketball games there through the 2016-17 season.
"We are lucky enough to play our games in what I would consider to be the premier facility for college basketball in the Northeast," Murphy said. "How lucky is that?"
Not only does the university hope fans come out for the games, but perhaps head coach Sydney Johnson can use the WBA as a chip in recruiting.
"When you have a facility like that, Sydney can use that as a recruiting tool and we'll get a better level of kid at Fairfield than we ever have," Murphy said.
The Stags have already been rather successful with their recent players, coming into the season with three straight 22-plus-win seasons, but have come up short winning that much-coveted MAAC championship.
The recent success has led to more meat on the non-league schedule, and most times, those better opponents want to host the games. Already this month, Fairfield has played at Virginia in the Preseason NIT and still has a stop at Lehigh, along with Big East schools Providence and DePaul. Next month, the Stags head to Austin Peay, Saint Joseph's and Old Dominion, plus bring Milwaukee and Drexel to the WBA.
"You start out the year a lot of times 2-7 or whatever because you are on the road playing all these big-name programs," Murphy said about one of the pitfalls when mid-majors load up their non-league schedule. "This year, our schedule is as brutal as I have seen. Realistically, you can come out of that 2-8, but it doesn't mean you are a bad basketball team. I think what happens is people see that and lose interest."
If Fairfield can continue its solid start, then Murphy's job of "getting people in the building" might be a bit easier.
email@example.com; http://twitter.com/wspaxton; http://blog.ctnews.com/paxton/