UNM's "Phantom Fans" account for lively attendance

KRQE News 13 Investigation

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) - Some may call it fuzzy math, UNM style. Others might see it as blatant misrepresentation. However, if you look at this latest issue to plague UNM's Athletic Department, the fact remains, someone is telling tall tales in Lobo Land.

A KRQE News 13 investigation finds UNM's Athletic Department routinely exaggerates attendance at the Dreamstyle Arena, aka, "The Pit."

For example, take a look at the January 2017 men's basketball game against Utah State. Lobo players battled the Utah Aggies before a crowd of what was reported to be 10,698 fans. Ten Thousand? Really? Not even close. In fact, the actual number of fans attending the game was inflated by 116 percent. Documents obtained through the Inspection of Public Records Act show UNM's official count included 5,734 phantom fans who never went to the game.

At last year's San Diego State game in March, the announced attendance included 4,352 spectators who weren't there. When the official attendance figures for the Aztec Warrior game were announced, the Athletic Department overstated the number of fans in the arena by 45 percent. 

When the Lobos took on the Nevada Wolfpack last year, UNM distorted attendance figures by 105 percent. Athletic Department staff included in their count 5,746 fans that were nowhere to be seen.

Announced attendance figures at women's basketball games are also routinely inflated.

When the Lady Lobos took on the UTEP Miners last season the Athletic Department counted 3,145 “ghost fans,” exaggerating attendance by 217 percent.

And, when the women's team played Boise State last year, UNM added 2,972 absent spectators to its official tally and overstated game attendance by 199 percent.

Attendance Summaries: Lobo Women's Basketball and Lobo Men's Basketball

Official attendance figures reported to the NCAA for men's and women's basketball games last season included a total of 115,992 phantom fans. How do we know? UNM scans the tickets held by every spectator entering The Pit. The Athletic Department knows exactly how many fans are in the stands for any game.

As an example, at last season's Boise State game UNM scanned 6,497 spectator tickets. However, the official attendance figure that was reported to the NCAA was 11,071. Why the disparity? When the Athletic Department computes attendance they don't just count tickets sold at the box office, they add UNM Event Staff, security guards, concession workers, team players and coaches, the band, cheerleaders, as well as all season ticket holders, whether or not they attend the game. That's how other college athletic programs count spectators. And that's why 4,574 fans that did not attend last year's Boise State game were included in the official tally.

UNM's newly hired Athletic Director Eddie Nunez says his staff complies with NCAA rules when counting attendance. "Announced attendance encompasses not just scanned tickets," Nunez said. "It encompasses the band, cheerleaders, media, (event) workers...It also (includes) individuals that have purchased tickets that didn't show up," Nunez said.

"Is it right? I don't think they were trying to mislead anybody. I think they were following (the NCAA). But I think it is something that we need to look at," according to Nunez. 

The Dreamstyle Arena is not the only UNM venue with inflated attendance figures.

At the football stadium, UNM does not have the technical ability to scan tickets and the staff does not count spectators. The Athletic Department has no way of knowing how many fans actually show up for football games. The football program attendance figures reported to the NCAA are based on educated guesses.

When Lobo football hosted the UNLV Runnin' Rebels in November for the final home game of the season, the Athletic Department added up all the season tickets, box office sales, concession workers, as well as staff members and came up with an educated guess of 14,744 spectators. At half time, there were more people on the field than there were in the east grandstands.

Athletic Director Nunez says he is sensitive to criticism about how event attendance numbers are being reported. "Since the day I got here I've been saying we're going to do things differently," Nunez said. "How things were done in the past doesn't mean that's how we're going to be doing things in the future. I want our fans to understand that we have to earn back their trust. For whatever reason we lost it throughout the years. That's my focus."


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