St. Louis University holds the key to building St. Louis back into a college basketball powerhouse.
There, I said it. Now let me show you how it can be done.
The time is ripe for a new franchise to steal the headlines and claim territory atop the city’s sports landscape.
There are two main reasons why SLU can become 1A to the Cardinals in ranking among St. Louis’ sports franchises: cost and quality (both of play and opponent).
Since everything in sports is about money, it naturally means we should ask the question: how expensive is it to attend a sports game today in St. Louis?
Let's break it down by the numbers.
The average ticket cost to a Cardinals’ game is roughly $31. The Fan Cost Index (FCI), which takes into account the entire experience for a family (hot dogs, parking, beer, program, etc.), is almost $225.
Those numbers are ridiculous, and in the present economy, the average couple simply cannot afford to spend $100 or more just to see a sporting event.
Do you want to bring a family, buy a soda, or invest in season tickets? Just sign over your savings account now.
SLU takes advantage of other team's outrageous price schemes by starting season ticket prices at $180 ($10 per game).
The Cardinals and Blues offer a somewhat comparable per-game starting price ($17-18), but you either get an outfield bleacher seat 400-plus feet away from home plate, or a nosebleed seat in an arena twice as large as the Billikens’.
Parking is free on city streets for SLU games, if you are fine with a 3-4 minute walk. If you must eat or drink during the game, concession prices are admittedly pretty steep, but they are still cheaper than what you will find at the homes of the professional teams.
SLU’s pricing plan must stay stable in order to attract fans of every income level. As more and more families become priced out of football, baseball and hockey games, they will naturally look to cheaper alternatives.
That being said, fans are only willing to invest time or money into a team when there is a product worth watching. The team must win. And it doesn’t hurt to host an attractive opponent from time to time.
SLU has certainly not held up its end of the bargain in terms of bringing home a winning brand of basketball—one NCAA tournament appearance (last year) since 2000. Only three times since 1996 has the team won more than 20 games, and over the last ten years, only one time has the team finished higher than third place in its conference (Atlantic-10 or Conference-USA).
Those streaks look to be ending soon. This current crop of Billikens won 25 games last year, and this year they return six of the team's top seven scorers.
This team was not a one-season wonder. These Billikens are at the precipice of several seasons of unparalleled success in St. Louis.
Sweetening the entire package is the high quality of opponents that the Atlantic-10 offers on a nightly basis, especially now that Butler and VCU have joined the conference.
News alert: the A-10 is now the biggest basketball conference in the nation.
A large subset of the St. Louis population believes that SLU should go back to its days as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, and compete against programs from more local, rural-based locales. I say they couldn’t be more wrong.
The Atlantic-10 conference brings teams from several major metropolitan areas (Philadelphia, New York, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Cincinnati).
These cities produce basketball talent miles better than what can be found in lesser populated areas of the country (Nebraska, Kansas or Iowa).
If there are any hiccups that could derail SLU’s plan, those would include the A-10 television package and the inevitable replacing of head coach Rick Majerus.
The conference’s TV package is a little chaotic. There are at least six channels in St. Louis that have televised Billikens’ games in recent memory. Much of this is beyond SLU’s immediate control, as they are but one voice in a room of 16 when it comes to contract negotiations among the conference members.
However, things do appear to be getting better. The conference recently extended television contracts with ESPN, and the respective sports networks of CBS and NBC. These contracts will run for eight years, starting in 2013.
That will only put more SLU games on television sets in St. Louis. Right now, quantity is the school’s best friend.
More importantly for SLU’s on-court success is the team’s plan to replace Majerus on the sidelines, especially now that he has stepped aside for the year due to severe health problems.
If the team didn’t have a strong recruiting pipeline into countries like Australia, New Zealand and Greece, I’d be more worried.
If the team didn’t have such experienced assistants ready to take over in Jim Crews and Jim Whitesell (700-plus combined wins as head coaches), I’d be more worried.
If the team was still in the early stages of a rebuilding program, I’d be more worried.
Players want to play for Majerus and his coaching disciples. With continued success, and a brand new on-campus arena, more players will see SLU as a destination worth reaching.
If the Billikens continue to build on their success in the postseason last year, and follow it up with repeat performances in 2013, 2014 and beyond, I believe SLU will stand shoulder to shoulder with the mighty Redbirds as kings of St. Louis sports.
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