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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
Crowd sizes, so far, haven't been appreciably different from the past several seasons at the University of Richmond's renovated Robins Center for men's basketball games. Crowd volume, however, seems amplified.
"Considerably louder," said Spiders coach Chris Mooney, who's in his ninth year. In Mooney's estimation, after the arena underwent its $17 million makeover during the offseason, the atmosphere became more intimate. Fans sit closer to the court and, as a result, tend to be more vocally involved.
Another reason for additional noise is there are more young fans at Richmond home games than there used to be. UR launched initiatives in the past few years to draw children of elementary-school and middle-school age.
"We love our current generation (of fans), but we also want to continue to build our fan base," said Jana Woodson, UR's assistant director of athletics/marketing and fan development. Creating the best possible home-court advantage is the goal, according to Woodson.
"Kids like basketball. They get excited. They get loud," she said. "It helps, along with (UR) students, to create a better atmosphere in the arena."
At Richmond games, children who belong to the Spiders' Kids Club form a human tunnel through which UR's players run to pre-game warmups. The Kids Club had 2,200 members last season, and Richmond's goal for this year is 3,000.
The club, for kids 13 and younger, provides members with free tickets to some basketball games and other benefits for a membership fee of $5.
UR contacted area schools and invited principals to choose Spiders Scholastic Stars, students whose achievement earns free tickets to Richmond basketball games. There are typically dozens of students recognized as a group on the court at selected games.
UR reaches out to area youth basketball leagues, and their teams often play games at the Robins Center before Richmond games, or at halftime.
The initiatives are intended to help "young people in the community know about Spiders basketball, so we can build fans from when they're young kids until when they're adults," said Woodson. UR began targeting young fans about three years ago, according to Woodson.
"It started to catch on and we added elements," she said. "It's starting to work, and people are starting to respond to it."
UR promoted Saturday, when the Spiders hosted Dayton, as the "official grand opening" of the Robins Center. For the first time, the four terrace-level suites were operational. That increased capacity from 6,721, which it was for the Spiders' first eight home games of the season, to 7,201.
Two of the terrace suites are for university affairs. The other two, which can be split for use by various groups, are reserved on a game-by-game basis. Wall graphics are the only upgrade that hasn't been completed as part of the renovation.
"It has absolutely exceeded our expectations," deputy athletics director David Walsh said of the new Robins Center.
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