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Want the black curtains to come up at the Huntsman Center? Fill up the lower bowl first

Swoop dances with fans in Utah's student section during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against California on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Swoop dances with fans in Utah's student section during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against California on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (Isaac Hale, Associated Press)

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SALT LAKE CITY β€” The black curtains that adorn the upper bowl of the Huntsman Center for men's and women's basketball games could be coming down β€” at least, at times β€” but it's a situation still in flux.

From the coaching staffs of the two basketball programs to the university's administration, there's a desire to have the curtains raised during games and fill the upper bowl of the 15,000-seat arena. During Red Rocks gymnastic meets, the curtains are raised due to most meets being near sellouts.

The decision to raise the black curtains, which were installed when the Huntsman Center went through a major renovation period ahead of the 2015-16 season and utilized permanently in 2020, will be based on how full the lower bowl is for a game, according to Matt Thomas, the assistant athletic director of marketing and fan experience at the university.

"We want to have a full Huntsman Center. We want to have the curtains up," Thomas said. "But looking at that, we don't want to do that at the sacrifice of our attendance in the lower bowl. Let's focus on filling out the lower bowl as much as possible with some reasonably priced tickets, and make a determination on a weekly basis what that might look like."

Thomas said approximately 20-30% of all tickets for any given game of the 8,500-seat lower bowl go unused, which is why the university sent out an email on Tuesday to fans with tickets to the Washington and Washington State games this week to encourage them to "fill the Huntsman Center" by transferring them to someone else, to sell them, or return them to the ticket office.

Additionally, the university said it has plans to sell 500 general admission tickets for $10 to ensure more people come to the games. As of Tuesday, Thomas said there's approximately 1,200 tickets still available for the Washington State game and just under 900 for the Washington game. He added that there are about 1,200 tickets, on average, left for each remaining game this season.

The university meets each Monday to assess each week's games to see if the upper bowl should be utilized. If the number of tickets available drops to below "a couple hundred," then a decision will likely be made to raise the curtains for a game. Should that happen, the university plans to release $5 general admission tickets for the upper bowl, Thomas said.

"It'll be very fluid, in terms of the decisions that are made," Thomas said. "Basically, at this point right now, we're providing information about how many tickets actually are remaining in the lower bowl. From that point, focusing on filling those seats before we we start having that consideration with the curtains."

Thomas said the goal is to also get more students out to each game to help fill up designated area for the MUSS β€” students get into each game free and have three additional passes for a guest. Additionally, he said, the university's sales department is working with different community groups to get them into the arena on a consistent basis.

So while the goal is to keep the curtains up for home games, Thomas said filling the lower bowl is their biggest priority.

"I try to control the controllables, and so I'm not sure I have much control over that," Utah men's basketball coach Craig Smith said. "Obviously, we'd love to have the curtains up. I mean, who wouldn't want to have the Huntsman sold out on a nightly basis? The more fans we can get in here to support our program and our guys, it makes a difference. Fans impact winning.

"I'm no rocket scientist, but if we can get some full houses in here or near capacity crowds and get a bunch of people in the stands, I'm all for that. ... Hopefully we're to that point where we can make it happen. It's a great group to be around. I've said that many, many times, it's a fun group. They'll compete hard. ... Obviously, if we can sell out the Huntsman and get people packed in here, by all means, let's make it happen."

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer of University of Utah athletics β€” primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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