EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma says the school is not doing enough to expand its fan base past the greater Hartford area.
Auriemma, elaborating on remarks he made this week to a group of business leaders in East Hartford this week, said he believes UConn should do more to target fans in Fairfield County, including playing some games in Bridgeport.
“The people down there are just incredibly supportive of our program and I don’t think we do enough to bring them into the fold,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think we do. We always complain that they don’t make the drive up to Storrs or they don’t come to the Civic Center, but I don’t think we do enough to reach out to them either. I think it’s a two-way street and I for one am anxious to start that process.”
The Hall of Fame coach said he would like to see the Huskies play at least one exhibition game a season in Bridgeport, and would like to see the NCAA put more tournament games in that city.
That was a suggestion Auriemma originally made in March, after fewer than 6,000 fans showed up at the 10,000-seat Gampel Pavilion in Storrs for UConn’s second-round tournament win over Purdue.
“I’ve always thought we should play at least one game down there every year,” he said this week. “I know it’s difficult to play a regular-season game down there, but certainly we should play an exhibition game down there and the more times we can have first-round, second-round regionals, the more we can have that there, I think it would be fantastic.”
Howard Saffan, the president of Harbor Yard Sports and Entertainment, which manages the 9,000-seat Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport said that facility would be honored to host UConn.
“We understand the importance of basketball in Fairfield County,” he said. “We’d love to be associated with the Husky logo and would entertain all opportunities to do so.”
Connecticut currently has a contract with the XL Center in Hartford that prohibits any other venue from hosting an off-campus game through the 2012-13 season, without the written consent of the XL Center management.
However, XL Center spokesman Tim Kemp said that could be worked out.
“We remain committed to our previous statement that states we would be willing to discuss options with UConn should the situation arise,” he said in an email Friday. “Obviously, we love having them play here in Hartford and we want to do everything we can to provide continuous support to the program.”
Auriemma said he also would like to see the school do more to attract fans to games on campus.
He said the school needs to address problems that include a false perception that tickets are not available; a lack of concession options at Gampel Pavilion; difficulty in finding parking near the arena and excessive wait times to get in and out of the school’s parking garages for games.
“We have to rethink the entire operation,” he told members of the East Hartford Chamber of Commerce. “And because of that, you will all come back and watch us play. And it’s our job to do a better job to make the game experience better for you guys, and I promise you, we’re going to do that.”