Hey University of Utah basketball fans, do you want to see the curtains that block off the upper bowl of the Huntsman Center raised for the remaining seven Runnin’ Utes games at home?

Then get people to actually fill the 8,500 or so seats in the lower bowl on a consistent basis.

That was the message delivered Tuesday by Matt Thomas, Utah’s assistant athletics director for marketing and fan experience to reporters in a news conference, and also the message that went out via email to approximately 5,100 Utah men’s basketball season ticket holders.

“We are not seeing as many people attend that have tickets. ... So we are really encouraging our fans as much as possible to utilize their tickets in any way they can.” — Utah assistant athletic director Matt Thomas

Thomas, who came to the U. last August from Boise State, said between 20-30% of ticket-holders are letting their tickets go to waste, evidenced by the large number of empty red seats at the Huntsman Center on an almost nightly basis. Average announced attendance for Utah’s 10 home games to date is 5,449, and the actual number of people in the seats — with the exception of the Jan. 7 game against Oregon — has been considerably lower than that.

“We are not seeing as many people attend that have tickets,” Thomas said. “… So we are really encouraging our fans as much as possible to utilize their tickets in any way they can. They can transfer them to their friends or family. They can sell them, all via the Utah tickets app, or they can return them to the ticket office and we will utilize some of our community partners in making sure those (seats) are full.”

Announced attendance during the 70-60 loss to the Ducks was 8,235, and the lower bowl was mostly full, causing some to wonder what attendance might have been if seats in the upper bowl were available for purchase.

The Utes (12-7, 5-3) will make a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., when they return home Thursday to host Washington State (9-10, 4-4) at 7 p.m.

On Saturday, they will wear their throwback red jerseys and host Washington (6 p.m.) on Alumni Night, with about 75 former players expected to attend and be honored.

A tribute to former Utah basketball legend and athletic director Arnie Ferrin, who passed away last month, and his family is also planned Saturday.

“We are really looking forward to this week,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of really great promotions going on.”

As of Tuesday, the plan was for the curtains to stay in place. But that decision is “very fluid,” Thomas said, and certainly not set in stone.

He said as of noon, just under 1,200 lower bowl tickets remained for the Washington State game and 897 remained for the Washington game. There are an average of 1,200 tickets remaining for the other five home games.

About 500 general admission tickets in the lower bowl will go for $10 each, he said.

“At the end of the day … we want to have a full Huntsman Center,” Thomas said. “We want to have the curtains up. But looking at that, we don’t want to do that at the (expense) of our attendance in the lower bowl. Let’s focus on filling up 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.”

So here’s the big question: What has to happen for the curtains to go up?

Thomas said “once we drop below a couple hundred tickets remaining in that lower bowl” his staff will “provide that recommendation” to Utah’s senior athletics staff and let them take it from there.

“If the curtains do go up, the plan would be to sell $5 (general admission) tickets in that space,” he said.

Coach Craig Smith has more pressing matters on his hands, what with the Runnin’ Utes having lost their last three games — all by double-digits — to tumble down the Pac-12 standings after a 5-0 start. Obviously, he would like to see the curtains removed, but acknowledged he doesn’t have much control over that decision so he isn’t dwelling on it.

“I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the Huntsman sold out on a nightly basis?,” Smith said. “I mean, the more fans we can get in here to support our program, and our guys (the better). It makes a difference. Fans impact winning. I am 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 am all for that.”

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Smith said he has spoken to Utah athletic director Mark Harlan about the situation, but not extensively.

“Hopefully we are to that point where we can make it happen,” Smith said, urging fans to get behind this team that has clearly improved from a year ago. “It is a great group to be around. I have said that many, many times. It is a fun group. They will compete hard. … Obviously, if we can sell out the Huntsman and get people packed in here, by all means, let’s make it happen.”

Thomas stressed that the first step is not just selling out the lower bowl, but having people in the seats. A little more than 500 seats are reserved for students, who receive free admission for themselves and up to three guests.

Until the Oregon game, very few students took advantage of those freebies, but on that Saturday night the MUSS was full and rocking. Utah is also running a “Saturday Ticket Special” for the three remaining Saturday games — Washington, Colorado (Feb. 11) and USC (Feb. 25). Fans can get tickets to all three games for just $27 total.

Runnin’ Utes on the air

Washington State (9-10, 4-4)
at Utah (12-7, 5-3)
Thursday, 7 p.m. MST
At Jon M. Huntsman Center
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700

Last season, the Deseret News reported that 7,789 season tickets were sold in 2015-16, the year after the Utes won two NCAA Tournament games. Only 5,680 season tickets were sold in 2019-20 (pre-COVID) and that number dropped to 5,100 last season (Smith’s first season).

“An email just went out this morning to all of our ticket holders to our upcoming Washington (games),” Thomas said. “We said we obviously know you have a ticket to these games. If you can’t go, we encourage you to help us fill the Huntsman Center, and these are the different ways you can help us do so.”

Fans watch the Utah Utes face the Washington State Cougars at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News