David Cloninger

Hot tickets: Sales for USC basketball games continue to rise

South Carolina basketball continues to be the hot ticket in town.

With the men’s and women’s seasons set to begin next week, the Gamecocks’ basketball season tickets are selling nearly 10 percent better than last year. According to figures from the USC ticket office, men’s sales have increased 9.6 percent and women’s sales have increased by 8.1 percent.

It’s a credit to coaches Frank Martin and Dawn Staley, who have embraced the community as much as their teams. Each has been instrumental in making Columbians a part of the teams, not just encouraging them to come to games, and as each team has gotten better, more and more fans have wanted to be a part of it.

Martin has rebuilt a relationship that had suffered in previous regimes, speaking to booster clubs and getting his team into the community for service projects. Martin has preached about his team using the home crowd as its backbone.

The Gamecocks were fifth in the SEC and 31st nationally in average home attendance, according to the NCAA, and third in the SEC and 22nd nationally in total attendance last year. The 13,088 fans per game was the program’s highest average since 2009-10.

“It’s funny how it works,” Martin told USC’s athletic website during the summer. “We actually cracked into the top 25 in the national rankings this year and stayed there for a little while. Now we’ve cracked into the top 25 in attendance. Those are things that can go hand in hand.”

As the women’s program has joined the elite, Staley has constructed a team that has drawn the nation’s top attendance for each of the past two years. USC averaged 14,364 fans per game last year.

The attendance growth began with Staley’s “Drive for 5” in 2013-14. The program’s goal was to get 5,000 fans per home game. USC averaged 6,371 that year, then nearly doubled it the next season.

“Our fans are amazing, and coaches all over the country ask us what we’re doing to fill the seats,” Dawn Staley told the USC athletic website. “We do our part, but it’s our fans that create that environment that others want to be a part of. They take it as a challenge to be back at the top of the attendance rankings.”

Each team hosts a home exhibition game Sunday, which are free and open to the public. The women play Benedict at 1:30 while the men play Newberry at 4 p.m.

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