SALT LAKE CITY — The curtains will be closed for most Utah basketball games next year under a new plan intended to help the Utes’ competitive advantage and improve the fan experience at the 50-year-old Jon M. Huntsman Center. 

Letters were sent out to season ticket holders this week disclosing the change that will affect some 400 season ticket holders, who account for 1,412 season tickets. Those season ticket holders who have held seats above the concourse will now have their seats moved below the concourse to rows 25 to 31. In all, the Utes have just under 6,000 season tickets.

“You’re competing against the couch and 80-inch TVs. But if you can create an atmosphere where people want to come to the games, they will, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.” — Scott Kull, Utah deputy athletic director

“It’s our continued commitment to basketball, which is driving our desire to create the best competitive advantage for our team,” said Scott Kull, Utah’s deputy athletic director. “That’s ultimately why we’re doing this.”

Kull said the change was a long time coming and was made in consultation with coach Larry Krystkowiak and Ute fans.

“Larry was supportive of it and we did a small focus group last year and got good feedback on that,” Kull said. “It’s something that’s been talked about for years and we felt this is the time to do it.”

Large black curtains were installed five years ago when the U. did renovations to the arena that included a new scoreboard and other amenities. For events that attract smaller crowds such as women’s basketball or volleyball, the curtains have been used ever since.

This past season, the Utes put the curtains down for several preseason games, including the November game against Minnesota, when the arena “had a great atmosphere” according to Kull. 

Kull said that for some games, the upper concourse may be open and available for general admission only.

Should so many underclassmen be declaring for the NBA draft every year?

“We’re planning to keep it closed for the entire season, but it does allow us flexibility, should demand exceed supply,” he said. “Then we could open it back up.” 

The average home attendance at the 15,000-seat arena this past season was 10,561, which includes tickets distributed. That will come down considerably next year because the lower bowl holds approximately 8,500 seats.

The largest announced attendance was 13,104 against Oregon in early January, although Kull acknowledged there were 8,600 “scanned” tickets for that game. 

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The 400 season ticket holders who are being moved down will pay the same price for season tickets as in the past, and those fans currently in rows 25 to 31 will have their prices lowered so there’s no disparity. Fans will also have the opportunity to upgrade to lower seats as long as they pay the applicable scholarship seating requirement and ticket price.

Kull, who worked for several years at TCU in the Big 12 Conference, pointed out that smaller arenas for college basketball are becoming more common around the country. Two of the Big 12’s most successful programs, Texas and Baylor, are both building new arenas much smaller than their current facilities. Texas will go from a 16,500-seat arena to 10,000, while Baylor will go from 10,000 to 7,000.

“You’re competing against the couch and 80-inch TVs,” Kull said, noting that most games these days are televised. “But if you can create an atmosphere where people want to come to the games, they will, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

If the Utes attract 8,500 fans to games, they will still rank third in the Pac-12 in attendance, behind only Arizona and Arizona State, which averaged 13,564 and 9,251, respectively, this past season.

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