Puck Swami: Building a DU Hoops Fan Culture starts with the “Pio Posse”

POSSE_FINAL (4)

We’ve all watched DU grow from what was mostly a hockey school to a nationally-ranked sports powerhouse in several sports over the last 10 years. That sports growth is helping to fuel DU’s national brand visibility around the country, creating a greater sense of engagement with the students, alumni and fans, and also fueling a higher sense of pride and purpose. DU has proven that resourcing and developing niche sports to win at the NCAA  Division I national level has important value in not only building the best non-football athletic program in the United States, but helping to build a high end front-porch for our university.

But it shouldn’t stop there.

DU wants to be nationally relevant in all that it does, and we, as fans, should support that sense of ambition. Our fans should not restrict themselves to support only one or two sports. While DU has well-established fan cultures in hockey, lacrosse and gymnastics, the fan culture for men’s basketball is still very much a work in progress. Certainly, DU hoops faces big obstacles. A saturated sports market, a lack of strong tradition and a difficult league travel circuit with little regional appeal are just some of them.

But rather than focus on the difficulties, it’s important to be optimistic. The Pioneers have a new head coach this year (former DU star Rodney Billups), a new playing style (fast, up-tempo basketball at altitude) and a new, local focus that should resonate with local fans. There is also DU’s new strategic plan’s emphasis on greater DU engagement with our city.

So the the timing is perfect to launch the “Pio Posse”- a fan-initiated support program for men’s basketball. Started by Let’sGoDU publisher Tim Thompson with other passionate DU basketball fans, the Pio Posse is attempting to build a more visible and vocal fan presence at DU basketball games.

This crowd support factor is sorely needed at Magness Arena, after DU’s home hoops crowds dwindled to a high-school-size crowd average of only about 1,600 fans per game last season, despite a winning program. This low level of crowd support is unacceptable for a winning Division I program, and we need to do something about it, rather than just complaining about it. Even getting our home fan support up to 4,000 paying fans per game would put the program on solid financial footing, improve DU’s conference ambitions and help add to the winning atmosphere on campus.

The theory behind starting the “Pio Posse” is simple – recruit adult DU fans to join together behind the DU bench to support the team through inexpensive ($99 per season, which is just $8 per home game), but very good season tickets. Then reward those fans with access to coach’s pre-game briefings, special apparel and watch parties for road games.

What we should admire most about this effort is three-fold:

1. DU’s adult fans wanted it and started it, not the school – thus it’s being built from the ground up, not the top down.
2. This group is not just for rich people or big program donors. It’s been created for those  fans who are driven by passion for DU hoops, not wallet size.
3. Most importantly, DU has listened, and has been very supportive of the group’s desires so far.

College basketball, unlike DU’s many niche sports, is a truly national sport, played by all Division One schools, over 360 of them, which makes climbing the quality ladder difficult. And while perhaps only 40 or 50 of those schools can spend enough annually to compete realistically for national titles, the sport is still big enough to confer many advantages for those top 100-150 basketball schools who use good basketball programs to improve conference affiliation, achieve greater media visibility and gain more athletic clout.

Let’s be honest – DU isn’t looking to become Duke, Kansas or Louisville. But there is no reason it can’t someday become a Gonzaga, Belmont or Valparaiso – small private schools (like us) but with nationally-respected NCAA tournament caliber hoops teams and strong fan cultures to support them. And while those aforementioned schools have all grown their hoops tradition over time, they all had to start with a small group of fans who cared enough to build a fan culture in the first place. It’s high time we built one here…

Here’s how you can join the Pio Posse for 2016 (a limited time offer)

* Click on to the DU ticket office promotions page here: DU Promotions Page
* Enter the offer code (DUBBALL99)
* Select seats & purchase
* Tickets will be sent out in October

And most importantly, get your friends to sign up, too.  Go Pios!

Puck Swami is the Internet moniker of a longtime DU fan and alumnus. He shares his views periodically here at LetsGoDU.